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Online review blackmail is a real thing

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It's no secret that online ratings have opened up new lines of communication between businesses and their customers. Where shoppers only had advertisements and word of mouth to rely on when making their purchasing decisions, they now have a wealth of ratings from fellow consumers giving their honest opinions on what's worthwhile – and what's not – about almost every business out there.

However, sometimes those ratings are less than honest, and other times, they might not come from real customers at all. According to a study conducted by the U.K.-based Competition and Markets Authority, fake reviews from competitors and negative ratings intended as blackmail are on the rise. With so many customers using online ratings as their primary source of research during the car-buying process, what can your dealership do to protect itself from these threats?

What if online ratings were less than trustworthy?What if online ratings were less than trustworthy?

Dishonest opinions
One of the reasons so many customers have turned to online reviews is for the perceived level of trustworthiness they see in ratings left by their peers. However, Nisha Arora, senior director of the CMA, explained in her organization's report that she has officially opened an investigation into intentionally misleading practices related to online ratings and reviews.

While compiling the report, Arora found instances where customers threatened businesses with negative reviews unless they provided steep discounts or upgraded services. However, the CMA also noted instances in which businesses either wrote fake reviews themselves or paid third parties to do so in a bid to lower the online reputation of competitors in their industries. In a separate investigation, the BBC identified students from Bangladesh who were paid $5 each by an unnamed company to write fake reviews targeting specific organizations.

"Students from Bangladesh were paid $5 by an unnamed company to write fake reviews targeting competitors."

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, told the Telegraph that some unscrupulous customers take this dishonest practice a step further.

"People will either attempt to blackmail during the meal, or sometimes, more worryingly, people who have not even been to the restaurant will post a bad review to try to get a free meal, or a free stay in a hotel's case," Couchman told the source.

Protect your dealership 
There will always be shoppers who are willing to do whatever it takes to get even a middling deal, but in the court of public opinion, how your business responds to them might be even more important. After all, the average shopper has little to lose by ignoring a random negative review on a ratings site, but a dealership that lets malicious comments pile up under its name risks losing precious business.

There's definitely an art to responding professionally and courteously to negative reviews when customers post genuine criticism, but when the rating is intended as blackmail or comes from a competitor with the intent to damage your online reputation, a more rigorous reconciliation process is necessary to protect your brand. Otherwise, customers won't be able to tell which reviews are real and which aren't, and that'll probably lead them to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, DealerRater's review-vetting process puts every submission through a rigorous fraud check before they're published. As one of the only dealership ratings site that has human readers scrutinize user-submitted reviews, DealerRater ensures that any attempts to extort your dealership or ruin your online reputation through fraudulent reviews never make it to your company's page.