I was extorted by a freelancer on fiverr – and I lost

We're a small business and can't afford any negative feedback on our work because we rely on our reputation. We figured that temporarily swallowing the injustice and moving on was the least worst course of action.

Michael Ryan was his name.

At least, I assume it was a ‘he’ – we’ve never actually met (or spoken).

And it’s probably just as well. He doesn’t exist.

But that didn’t stop him delivering our first one-star Google review. And it hurt.

Though not for the reasons you might think.

The review

We were quite sure we knew who ‘Michael’ was as soon as we read his fake review. It was like a punch to the stomach.

We’d worked so hard to build Brandsten from nothing during the past three years … and someone was slandering it in a very public forum.

The trail

After working with over 80 freelancers during the past three years on oDesk, UpWork, Freelancer and Elance, I can recall only a handful of occasions where we’ve provided less than five-star feedback.

It’s not something I like doing unless we’ve had a genuinely poor experience.

We’d given a freelancer a below par rating (albeit, only slightly) on fiverr that morning, and he was unhappy.

He delivered almost a week late and missed key elements of the brief. So I gave him four stars, declined to comment and moved on.

But ‘Michael’ didn’t want to leave things there.

Discovery

As soon as we digested the fake review, we penned our response to the author and flagged it with Google.

There were a handful of options we could select to provide context around our report, but there was no section for ‘fake review’.

After digging around online, we learned this was a common complaint.

The sad fact is that it’s difficult to make a fake review go away in a hurry – if at all – no matter how much it might hurt your business.

So we took a punt and contacted our fiverr freelancer directly to see if we could get him to respond.

The exchange

Here’s a screenshot of the message we sent him on fiverr:

We knew we had our guy (and no, it wasn’t ‘Michael Ryan’).

And so we reached a fork in the road.

We could wait for Google to deal with the fake review and report the freelancer to fiverr…

… or we could lock our ego in a cupboard and go into damage control.

I was initially ashamed we chose the latter. But on reflection, it was the best course of action we could have taken at the time.

So we amended our review of his service to five stars, and Michael Ryan’s fictitious experience with our business disappeared from Google.

Why didn’t we report it?

Firstly, we had no faith that Google would remove the fake review – or that it would be done so in a timely manner.

We’re a small business and can’t afford any negative feedback on our work because we rely on our reputation.

So waiting until Google made a decision wasn’t appealing.

Secondly, this guy was obviously prepared to go to some pretty extreme lengths to retaliate for a four-star review. He created a fake Google account and left a fake review because we gave him a star less than he wanted.

We weren’t prepared to be followed around by a jilted freelancer for the next few months.

So we figured that temporarily swallowing the injustice and moving on was the least worst course of action.

Take-aways

Once the anger subsided, I took stock of what happened and came to some depressing conclusions based on my experience and that of others (just search ‘how long does it take Google to remove a fake review‘):

  • Your online reputation can be shattered very quickly – even when you’ve done nothing to deserve it. Damage control can be better long-term option than going head-to-head with a fake reviewer, no matter how tempting it may be in the moment.
  • Reporting and removal of fake reviews can stretch into months. In the end, you may wind up at the same place you started. If you feel it’s important to have a fake review removed, you may wish to consider options outside the official channels.
  • Posting a slightly negative review, even if justified, can result in a world of pain. This is perhaps the saddest conclusion. Should we be intimidated any time we leave a slightly critical appraisal of a freelancer’s work?

A cautionary tale

It’s a sad and sorry state of affairs when you can be extorted over a four-star review on a late and off-spec product.

You can say I deserve it for using fiverr for business in the first place. But it was only a $5 transaction for some basic graphic design.

In all of my previous dealings across the range of freelancer platforms, I’ve never encountered anything like this.

I’m definitely not blaming fiverr here. This is about a bad egg, not their service.

I just wanted to share my story as a cautionary tale.

You might one day be forced to choose between doing what feels morally ‘right’, and what is ‘smart’ for your business.

When it comes to keeping the electricity on, the ‘smart’ option is usually the better one.

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