Puyallup, WA – The owners of a Washington restaurant said they have become the target of a foreign cyber extortion scheme that has negatively affected their new business.
Like most businesses, the restaurant depends on local word-of-mouth and online reviews to help drum up interest and bring in customers, he said.
In early May, Folven said he checked the restaurant’s Facebook reviews and found that five reviewers had given the business one star.
“When I opened them, they were all similar in names, so I thought maybe there was a family,” he explained. “They were all talking about how bad their experience was, how bad the food was.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve had their Pizza, and it tastes amazing, but it’s expensive.)
Folven then realized that parts of the reviews referred to details that didn’t even apply to Napoli Italiano.
“They were making statements like, ‘in the Portland area,’ or referring to dishes that we don’t even sell here,” he said.
Folven began investigating the profiles of the supposed customers, and found that many of the accounts appeared to be fake, KIRO reported. Many included stock pictures for their profiles that could easily be obtained in an online search.
In the days that followed, more and more negative reviews poured in on Facebook and Google, with many coming from users who had posted nothing more than the single review.
A short while later, Folven received a private message over Facebook from a user who claimed his name was Rashid Shishani, KIRO reported.
“Hello. You own the Restaurant. We make bad reviews of you guys,” the message read. “We will continue to do so. We have done facebook and google reviews. You are at 2.9 star.”
The extortionist then issued an ultimatum.
“We will remove all bad review away if you pay $900.00 USD…If you do not comply we will continue submitting reviews on all ur businesses until 1 star and shut down,” the message said. “If you do comply we will change all to 5 stars and leave you alone.”
“If you post anything about this anywhere you will have bad reviews daily,” the note continued. “Google does not delete reviews, facebook does not delete reviews, we will do Yelp next.”
The message directed Folven to send the money to Vivien Ming Choo Kong in Singapore via Western Union.
“I recommend your business to comply,” it said. “We have destroyed many in the past and you will not be the [last].”
“This has dramatically affected us,” Folven admitted. “We had business from day one, and then it dropped probably 40 percent just in the matter of the last couple weeks.”
Folven said he could “only imagine” what the money might be used for, and said that the restaurant’s owner, Ramesh Kumar adamantly refused to comply with the extortionist’s demands.
Kumar, who also owns two other restaurants in the area, is a well-known supporter of local veterans and law enforcement officers, and provides first responders with free meals at his restaurants once per month, KIRO reported.
The idea of caving to the extortionist’s orders goes against Kumar’s core beliefs, Folven explained.
“Even though it seems like $900 isn’t even that much to take a risk to make it stop, he said that there’s no way … he says that no matter what, we’re fighting it,” Folven said. “We decided to just stand up and fight against this regardless of what the outcome is going to be.”
To help offset the effect of the negative reviews, Napoli is giving away free pizza for over five hours on July 30, KIRO reported.
They hope that the act will prompt customers to leave favorable reviews on their Facebook page to outweigh the damage done by the scammers, Folven said.
The business also planned to provide police with the information they have gathered during their investigation.
“We want to create awareness,” Folven told KIRO. “This is some serious bullying from people not even in our country.”
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