'I've lost everything': Small businesses claim fake online reviews killing them
A growing number of small businesses are being run into the ground by what they say are fake and exaggerated reviews would-be customers shouldn't trust.
Gee McCracken was flying high after her weight reduction company BodyOlogy brought in more than $1.5 million in revenue in just 10 months.
But her baby was about to go bust.
"Bang, two reviews, two turned into four reviews, we knew the other two were not genuine and I could not get anyone to listen to me," she told A Current Affair.
"Because the algorithm favours negative over positive, so if you put our name in as a key word, all you saw were the negative reviews."
Ms McCracken said her customers dried up and she lost her life savings.
"It was very, very painful to lose," she said.
"My whole life was in that business and it was gone, just because of a couple of reviews."
At its height David Johnson's moving company had nine trucks on the road with 27 permanent employees.
Now, it's just Mr Johnson and his dog.
"I've lost my house, I've lost my cars, I've lost everything," he said.
He blames a couple of untrue bad reviews for destroying his business.
As many as 75 per cent of social media users say they read reviews before making a purchase.
But business owners can pay for fake glowing reviews, and scammers can blackmail businesses with bad reviews.
Ira Bale owns two beauty salons and averages a five-star Google review - but that perfect rating was threatened last year.
"I received an email blackmailing me, that if I don't pay them $100, they're going to put lots of one-star reviews on Facebook," she said.
"The next day he emailed me and asked me for $500, he's then going to attack my Google reviews."
The scam artist left scathing fake reviews, complete with photos of clients Ms Bale had never seen.
She said she had to hire a lawyer to try to get them taken down.
"I was stressed, I was desperate," she said.
Ms McCracken had now launched her own rival review site business, thebom.com.au.
"We contact the business owner, give them the opportunity to view the review, and if it's a very unhappy, disgruntled customer, they have the opportunity to discuss it, resolve it, and then the review is published," Ms McCracken said.
She claimed customers could also benefit by accruing rewards points and redeeming shopping vouchers.
But despite being paid for by businesses, Ms McCracken was adamant her website had integrity.