We all know the importance of online reviews to solidify the reputation of local brick and mortar businesses. For some business reviews are everything. To the onliners that no longer drive around and search for what they need, this can make or break a business. But what happens when unscrupulous individuals or companies use these platforms for malicious vendettas or as a weapon to destroy or sabotage legitimate businesses? Recently my business Houston iPhone Screen Repair, was attacked and it has made me search for answers to these questions.
But first let’s start with the details of what happened…
I buy a large number of screens weekly. I always look for the best quality for my customers at reasonable prices. And since I offer a lifetime warranty and my reputation is at stake, the parts need to work flawlessly. From time to time vendors come to my shop and I will try the parts they sell. A vendor came to me with no website and he was just starting his company so I decided to give him a shot. We had a few transactions and I was not impressed with the quality of his screens. As time went on he mentioned that his screens were great for return business because if they cracked they would not work at all and my customers would have no choice but to come back for another repair. At that point I decided not to order from him again because I do not do business that way. I run a shop in the Market Street area of The Woodlands, not the slums of Harwin. I want the best for my customers. Months went by and he came to my shop again asking me to buy more screens. He said this time he went to China and personally made sure that his screens were top quality.
I decided to give him another chance. I ordered a box and paid for them. He sent me 2 boxes due to a mix up so he said, but now I think he was just trying to get rid of them. I tested the screens and found an entire box of bad screens plus a few bad in the other box right off the bat. He came to get one of the boxes and I also gave him some of the other bad screens making it clear that I did not want replacements. I began using the rest of the screens that I thought were good and immediately had customer returns for defects. All of his screens turned out to be defective. It was an embarrassment to my business and a waste of more time to correct the issues. To a small business owner time is almost as valuable as reputation. I contacted him. He promised to come back to get rest of the screens and refund me
For almost 2 months I waited for him to come get his screens and resolve the situation. Several times we communicated and there was always an excuse as to why he could not come back by our shop. Finally I disputed the transaction with the bank and the bank made right what he would not. Upon finding that I had disputed the transaction he became very angry sending me aggressive texts messages. I tried to talk to him but I refused to argue. After several harassing messages I decided to end our conversation stating that our business relationship was over. Then I received the text that escalated this to a hostile situation.
“You will lose a lot of time and business because of this”
How do we take threats as people? None of us take threats well. This was the direct threat to my business that got him blocked and ended any communication opportunities between us or any further resolution. I am certain now that there was never going to be a resolution. His business practices involve, selling a customer bad parts, then taking revenge on them if they want their money back. Him keeping the money and getting rid of his crappy screens was the perfect resolution for him.
I thought he was trying to bully me but I never thought what came next would actually happen. He threatened me Sunday on Mother’s day. A little over a week later on Tuesday morning,
I woke up to a ton of negative review notifications on Facebook
My eyes could not believe what I saw. 95 1 star reviews between 5:40 and 6:10 AM were posted on my page. These undeniably fake 1 star reviews came from Facebook users in Brazil. My business is located in The Woodlands TX nowhere near Brazil. In one instance all the hard work I had done to maintain 5 stars for 4 years, was made insignificant. His attack had brought my business down to 2.6 stars. I reached out to Facebook. Clearly this was a malicious attack from some blackhat SEO. I was calm. I knew that Facebook would see this and take these down. I was wrong. I spent hours trying to find a number to call, or a way to message them or some resolution. I was sent on an endless search through useless help pages. Finally they answered to my post on their business page where they informed me that they could not do anything about it unless it violated Facebook’s review policies. They also informed me that I could not report the fake reviews if they did not leave comments. A blackhat type SEO will know this.
Facebook has no systems in place to protect us
Sure, if I was getting bullied by a high schooler calling me names there are plenty of help pages and who to contact. But someone attempting to ruin my business causing damage to mine and my children’s lives, has a free pass. So basically a business owner can pay for advertising and promoting a business on Facebook but can get absolutely no help if the business is attacked maliciously with the intent of destruction. Even a very obvious attempt such as this, is of no concern to them. The reviews that are of the lowest quality and clearly fake on a business page are the ones that we can not have taken off.
Upon my long journey through the endless help screens and business forums I found that this has happened to many many business owners. To someone who has their entire business network on Facebook this is devastating and life changing.
Why won’t Facebook help?
There are approximately 3 million businesses that advertise on Facebook. There over a billion users on Facebook. It is safe to say Facebook is a major contributor to commercial business. Facebook is making more than 1 billion per quarter from paid advertising, yet they can’t seem to be bothered by things like true and legit representation of the business they allow to advertise. If this happened on Yelp or Google these reviews would be taken down immediately and they would seek out the parties responsible. They take this very seriously and investigate the IP address that fraud originated from. I have been told that they will even prosecute.
In my desperation I reached out to my tech family via the Facebook groups. I briefly told them what happened not mentioning any names (at first). Thousands of small business owners such as myself on these groups know what it is like to struggle to keep a business reputation at 5 stars.. Literal blood, sweat, and tears go into running an ethical and successful business at the same time. Hours upon hours away from our families go into our business in order to support our families. I posted the scenario asking for advice.
It sparked outrage
Immediately my tech family on 3 different groups wanted to know who he was. At the time I only knew his first name, his cell number, and that he was from Houston. When I mentioned the name Arshed, not more than 1 minute later someone posted his Facebook page information, to which I replied “that’s the guy”. I could not believe the support I began receiving after that. It struck a chord with technicians and business owners that pride themselves in their work and use ethical business practices. Within a matter of hours my Facebook fam kicked this crisis into high gear. My group friends started helping with damage control. It brought tears to my eyes to see my tight nit techy groups were so concerned with the injustice of what was happening to my business. My Facebook fam contacted the reviewers. Some of them replied. They had no idea that they had even reviewed me. Some of them changed their reviews. Some were taken down. My friends called Arshed’s shop, Lake Jackson iPhone Repair in Texas, demanding to know why he did this and that he reverse it. They emailed him and IM’d him on Facebook. They began searching for ways to contact Facebook and report these fraudulent reviews. They started reporting the profiles as fake. They tried to help by reviewing my page and giving me 5 stars again. They did everything they could to help me get my stars back to a but it still was not enough. A 3.4 was as far as we got.
I am now on the 7th day of damage control and Arshed Naeem was right. This certainly has cost me time and business. I had to stop running my Ad’s on Facebook. I have spent time seeking legal counsel, answering and discussing on the forums, researching a way to fix this, and gathering my thoughts to write this blog. I have even thought of creating a new Facebook page or hiding my stars. But why should I? Almost every customer that walks through my door says they are here because of the reviews. I have worked hard for my reputation. I will not let this or Arshed defeat me. I will spend the time it takes to correct this and maybe even raise awareness so that other business owners have protection.
I am turning this into a positive experience
I hope to raise awareness of blackhat and scandalous tactics regarding online reviews. I am going to put my misfortune out to the public in hopes that someone in charge of the operations of Facebook will become concerned enough to make some changes. I have not lost faith in humanity. There are people out there that still hold true to ethics, values, and hard work. I have found that there is a certain camaraderie involved with many small business owners, it is not only “dog eat dog”. In my field, business owners are on high alert always watching our backs and always have something to prove. Our customers are constantly told by Apple that we mess things up or don’t know what we are doing. Big box companies are starting to do repairs and advertise heavily. Cut rate business owners like Arshed also give the cell phone repair industry a bad name. Many business owners like him buy the cheapest parts available and hope that the customer makes it out the door before the phone breaks again or stops working.. After they cross the threshold, it’s on them. But in my groups, people I know in this business want to make sure the customers are taken care of. We often go above and beyond to help customers because we still view them as people, not just dollars. In today’s world, that means a lot.
When this goes public..
Everyone who reads this will know that most cell phone repair shop owners are here to truly help. You have a dead phone with pictures of your loved one that has passed? You are desperate and WE feel your pain and WE are here to help… not Apple, not the Geek Squad, not sheisty owners who want to scam and make a quick buck.. WE care. We love what we do, we love solving problems for people, and coincidentally we can make money at it. It’s a win win for both sides when a customer steps into my shop or a shop that is owned by ethical caring entrepreneurs such as my shop forum buddies.
I want to find help for anyone this has happened to. Maybe by this being made public, the other business on Facebook will finally get the justice they deserve. Maybe People like Arshed Naeem will finally get the justice they deserve. And though I won’t speak to him I hope he finds out that this has actually increased my inquiries on Facebook. And my business is doing well. What he has done has only made me stronger and it has made me eager to help other victims of this type of extortion.
If you have had this happen to you or anyone you know please contact me or leave a comment in the post below. If we keep trying we can achieve a positive change in this flawed system.