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Pay $299 or you get a bad review: Warning over scam targeting MN firms

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A Twin Cities photography firm has been targeted by scammers who demanded they pay up $299 or they would post 25 negative reviews of their company online.

The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning to companies in the metro to be on the lookout for emails from someone threatening to post a series of fake, negative customer reviews online, before someone else gets in touch offering "reputation management services."

The Pioneer Press reports that Brad and Renee Nyberg, of Robbinsdale-based Nyberg Photography, were sent an email by someone identifying themselves as "James Frank" telling them that 25 bad reviews of their business would go on several websites unless they coughed up $299.

Then someone else emailed them under the name of "Elena Kagan" offering reputation management services. They ignored both, and negative reviews did start to appear online. Now they're worried it could drive away business.

"Today this scam targets photographers, but who will it target tomorrow? That’s the question we’re asking," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota in a news release. "We’re advising all businesses that the best approach to dealing with scams like this is to not play along."

The PetaPixel website describes the four-step process these scammers go through, and have examples of some of the emails they send.

Photographers are a popular target for the scam artists, not least because they rely heavily on reputation and good reviews to generate business.

In the Nyberg case, the names Gina Ellis and Jennifer McMahon are also suspected of being used, though these names may not be real and others might be, the BBB notes.

If a business is targeted by the scam, they are advised to "not be bullied" and to fight back on the sites that the negative reviews have been posted, posting replies highlighting why the comment is a scam and putting a link in for people to follow.

It also said that anyone who does want a reputation management firm should do their research at the BBB website, seek references, and do comparison shopping to get an idea of costs.

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