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Blackmailer threatens Houston restaurant with negative online reviews unless they pay ransom

After the restaurant refused to pay the ransom, diners stepped in to help counteract the fake negative reviews.

HOUSTON — A local restaurant ownership group says it was blackmailed by someone overseas threatening to bombard them with negative reviews.

The partners received an email to the main account of their City Center restaurant, Daily Gather, requesting they send the blackmailers pre-paid gift cards.

If they didn’t comply with the ransom, their restaurant would be disparaged online and flooded with negative reviews.

Trent Patterson, the director of operations and co-owner of Daily Gather, has been in the restaurant business for years. He’s seen a lot but said he has never encountered a situation like this.

“Around five or six days ago we started to see we were getting consistent one-star reviews, two or three in the same day,” Patterson said. “About three or four days into this we get the email from some generic foreign email address.”

Here’s one of the emails Daily Gather received:

It reads:

“Hello. Unfortunately, negative feedback about your establishment has been left by us. And will appear in the future, one review a day.

“We have no other choice. We live in India and see no other way to survive. We are begging you to send us Google Play gift card worth $75.

“After selling this gift card we can earn approximately $50, which is three weeks of income for one family.”

After making the decision to not comply with the ransom request, Patterson and his business partners contacted Google to have the fake negative reviews removed.

“We’ve reported each and every one of them and everyone can report every review,” Patterson said. “It’s just Google is this big behemoth, and they’ll get to it when they get to it.”

Patterson says online reviews are critical to any business, but restaurants are especially sensitive.

“Anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of our business is from people who have never stepped foot in this restaurant and might never step foot in this restaurant,” Patterson said. "The only way they have an idea of who we are is through those reviews online."

Patterson and his partners took to social media, telling the public about what happened and why they have a one-star Google review.

People responded in a way nobody expected.

“We’ve had tons of people who have already dined here and never thought to leave a review that’re posting pictures of their experience, sharing stories about their experience here which beyond the world we appreciate,” Patterson said.

The group of restaurant owners decided not to file a police report. Patterson says he didn’t think there was much officers could do and have more important crimes to pursue.

“Because we know they’re not going to fly to India,” Patterson said.

For now, the owners are just hoping the fake negative ratings will stop, or at least the public will see them for what they are.

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