New Restaurant Faces Fake Yelp Reviews, Extortion By Romanian Scammers

This saga is every restaurant's worst nightmare, except that it's so outlandish, it's hard to imagine any business even imagining in their subconscious-twisted dreams. Just a week after opening, an Italian restaurant and lounge in Puyallup, Washington, noticed a string of one-star, highly negative reviews of its business on Yelp, Google, and Facebook.

KOMO News reports the owners of Napoli Italiano and Speakeasy Lounge were startled to read accusations of poor food quality, awful service, and even food poisoning—the kind of cautionary tales that would scare off any prospective customers. In all, more than 70 one-star reviews were posted online, leading to a 40-percent drop in business. Owners were forced to lay off staff as traffic slowed to a trickle.

Then, a mysterious message arrived in Napoli Italiano's Facebook inbox: Pay us $900, and the negative reviews go away.

The restaurant then called the police to report the extortion. The Pierce County Sheriff's Office traced the message to an I.P. address in Romania, where they have no jurisdiction and few options to investigate. Making matters worse, the review sites haven't taken down the false posts. But other users appear to be counteracting the one-star reviews; more than 200 people have posted 5-star reviews of the business on Facebook.

"We are seeing extortion cases like this on a daily basis right now," Ed Troyer, a detective with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, told KOMO News. Authorities urge restaurants or businesses facing similar threats to alert the FBI.

What we take away from this whole saga? One: Fuck foreign scammers. Two, and we could shout this from the rooftops on a daily basis: Read all online reviews with a grain of salt. No, make that a tablespoon of salt. Actually, the whole salt shaker.