News & Politics

Cyber Thugs Target Yelp, Other Rating Sites with Negative Reviews, Demanding Huge Sums of Money

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One of the seamier sides to the web is the number of criminals or cyber thugs who try to extort money from companies and individuals by threatening to post damaging reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, RateMDs and many other review sites. The cyber thugs will threaten to post damaging reviews unless they are paid.

Examples are limitless. For example, according to The Hill, “A  group of hackers emailed CheapAir, an online travel agency, threatening to ‘destroy personal or company reputation online’ if the company failed to pay 1.5 bitcoins, roughly the equivalent of $10,000, by Wednesday.”

CheapAir CEO Jeff Klee said, “We’re definitely not going to pay these cyber thugs, but we still have to devote a lot of time and resources to combating it.”

Because all of these reviews are curated automatically, it’s becoming very difficult to detect the difference between one that’s legitimate and another that’s fake.  And it’s sometimes easier for the targeted entity to just pay up rather than have to undo the damage it can create.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection subcommittee, noted, “Extortion attacks are not a new phenomenon, but pose a growing threat to the nation’s pocket as hackers methods keep evolving. It is a threat to our economy through those types of hacks and breaches of small businesses. Cyber hackers improve with respect to their sophistication and the frequency of those attacks is increasing.”

As The Hill noted, last year the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) had nearly 15,000 “extortion-related complaints, creating a financial loss estimated to be $15 million.”

But the losses and the impact from these attacks can be devastating, causing businesses to suffer and reputations to be destroyed. The perpetrators often use services offered on the black web that will carry out the work for them, such as flooding a review site with dozens of bad reviews for a few hundred dollars.

What should you do if you’re approached by one of these cyber thugs? Law enforcement experts recommend not cooperating. Paying once may only set you up for being approached again. Furthermore, people should be leery of highly negative reviews. Ignore reviews from those reviewers without a history of doing reviews that cover a wide range of ratings, and ignore a raft of poor reviews posted within a very short time span.