Needham Business Owner Targeted with Fake Reviews

Steve Dalton, owner of Strength in Numbers Tutoring in Needham, Massachusetts, says he was targeted with 24 fraudulent one-star reviews on Google that took weeks to be removed

NBC Universal, Inc.

Steve Dalton opened Strength in Numbers Tutoring in Needham, Massachusetts, six years ago.

"We help kids to succeed in their math classes, their science classes, their writing classes," said Dalton.

In July, he paid an out-of-state marketing service $1,500 to generate some new business for him.

"This looks like any other reputable service," said Dalton. "They had dozens of five-star Google reviews on their Google business listings and on their website."

But when the company missed all the work deadlines, Dalton disputed the charge with his credit card, and he says he was stunned to receive a threat from the marketing company's owner.

"I received something from this employee and also, separately, from the owner of the company, via text message," Dalton said, "stating that if I did not withdraw the charge dispute by so-and-so a time on so-and-so date, then they would use what they referred to as their 'First Amendment right' to destroy my business. And when that time came and went, one hour after that, I received the first batch of one-star reviews on Google."

In total, his Google business profile was bombarded with 24 one-star reviews.

"Some of these reviews were making statements about me that I harass and yell at children, that I am under investigation for fraud, and that I had double billed credit cards," said Dalton.

Fearing for his livelihood, he contacted Google, but he says it took weeks to get all of the fake reviews removed.

"Google claims that they only allow legitimate content to be posted, but there is no verification process at all," Dalton said. "I've worked hard to earn the trust the people who write good things about me online. It's discouraging that all of that can be so easily thrown into the mix with a bunch of fake content."

Google didn't respond to NBC10 Boston's questions about why it took so long for the fake reviews on Dalton's listing to be removed. But the company says it has teams of trained analysts and automated systems that detect abusive behavior.

"We invest significantly in building technologies and instituting practices that help people find reliable information on Google. Our policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences and information, and we closely monitor 24/7 for fraudulent content, using a combination of people and technology," a Google spokesperson said. "When we find scammers trying to mislead people, we take swift action ranging from content removal to account suspension and even litigation."

Dalton wants Google to do more to stop fake reviews from being posted in the first place. He's started a petition to get the company to require two-factor authentication for reviewers.

"If you submit an online review with Google for a business, they should be verifying that it's actually you," he said.

Google says it blocked 55 million reviews and nearly three million fake business profiles that violated its strict policies in 2020. And the company also says its technologies and teams disabled more than 600,000 user accounts after detecting and investigating suspicious or policy-violating behavior.

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