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(help) website punished and blackmailed by seo specialist

Discussion in 'White Hat SEO' started by MikeMax, Mar 17, 2018.

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  1. MikeMax

    MikeMax BANNED BANNED

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    Hi everyone i really require some urgent assistance on a matter. It all started 2 years ago when my wife and I started a small hotel near a popular destination. I won't reveal exactly where or what the hotel name is as I prefer privacy on this matter and I do not know if this seo specialist is in this forum.

    In the start our hotel's business was pretty bad. Occupancy rate was as low as 10-15% and the only customers we ever get is backpackers or couples who couldn't get any rooms elsewhere and ours is the last resort. Most of them didn't even heard about our hotel name so my wife and I were trying to figure out a way to get more guests to our hotel or we will have to shut down soon.

    So one day I receive this email. The email that was, in the start, a blessing but it became a hellish nightmare for me, my wife, and the hotel's business. The email sender was from India and he claims to be a seo specialist who can rank websites easily and bring lots of traffic and sales to our websites. Initially I had no idea what exactly is "seo" and "internet marketing" or "smm marketing" or such internet terms as I'm a 52 year old man who isn't into this internet things except visiting facebook, watching youtube, and shopping online. So I replied to his email asking for more details and he started explaining to me about google and how ranking in google can help my business. I thought he was a trustworthy guy so I agreed to his proposal and he asked me to give him a deposit of US$500 first, then a monthly subscription of $300 for 'maintance ranking' or whatever that means. I would remit him the money through wire transfer.

    The guy would periodically send us this excel file showing what he has done so far. Like he has submited our site to google and other search engines, directories, and google places, and so on. Few months' passed and I started noticing our hotel's business were picking up. My wife and I were glad and relieved. Then the guy emailed me asking me if I'm interested in some 'express seo service'. He claims he can track and optimize our website and ensure we only get right customers and so on and so on. For that he said he will need US$1,000 and an increase of monthly subscription fee from 300 to 500. And because my wife and I were seeing an increase of business we decided to go with it. He also requested us for access to our godaddy account and website and so on so he could implement some 'google code' to track our visitors to our website. We agreed.

    Another few months' passed and our hotel was doing even greater than ever. Occupancy rate was always at 80-85% that we even increased our nightly rates and we were raking in more businesses than ever. We even hired staffs, chambermaids, and so on to our hotel. My wife and I were so excited that we even had plans to expand our hotel.

    And just when we thought we were at Heaven we were thrown to Hell. My credit card started showing strange charges from godaddy and I called godaddy and they said I registered several domain names and even paid for an expired website (whatever that means). Strangely I didn't receive any emails and I couldn't log back in to my godaddy. I later recall giving the Indian guy my godaddy credentials and I asked him. Initially he denied and denied until I called godaddy and they told me my account was being logged in from India. With this proof, the Indian specialst admitted it was him and he apologized. He said he logged in to the wrong account and registered new websites with the wrong godaddy account. Thinking he was a trustworthy guy I believed him and I fear him also as my business was doing well and we were relying on him. In exchange, he said he will do some 'special seo' as compensation. I decided to forget about the incident and reset my godaddy password too. So now he only has access to my website.

    Then Hell part 2 came. The Indian guy started asking me money as a 'bonus' for every single holiday event. Whether is it the new year, or his country's cultural holidays he would ask me for money as a 'bonus gift' or 'holiday present'. I try to be polite so I would try to white-lie to him that my business is dying and not doing well. And to my surprise he blackmailed me saying "Sir, according to google analytics, your conversion rate is many more higher than when we first meet. You try lying to me? You want making me angry Sir? I can disappear your site any time." Fearing for him I would just give it to him. It isn't much but it is just $100-200 each time.

    It became even worst since the start of the year. He told me that the monthly seo fee is now $1000 a month from this year onwards. I confronted with him and said this is way too high and I said I may want to stop using his seo service. He would then blackmail me again saying he can make my site disappear from search engines and my business would go bankrupt. And to show he was serious about it he posted several negative reviews and send me the link to the bad reviews to look at it. My wife and I quarreled a lot because of this guy and she would always cry about this saying she has never been so 'small and vulnerable' in life. I felt very frustrated too that I started falling sick often like acid reflux and getting the flu very often. Even though our hotel's occupancy is now as high as 95% I wasn't really happy as I am now facing blackmails from 'seo specialist'.

    Then earlier this month..... I think it was some holiday in India.... i think it is called colour day or something and he again requested a 'bonus'. This time it was crazy..... he asked for $1,000 and I flatly said no. Again, he blackmailed me and said it would be a pity if my business is flooded with negative reviews and my site disappears entirely from search engines. He then said I shouldn't be stingy about giving him $1,000 as compared to my business going bankrupt over it. And again he would show me google analytics screenshots about my conversion rate and how well my business is doing and I could easily earn it back. I try to talk some sense with him then he said he needed the $1,000 because his mom is in hospital or something. Then he went on with his blackmail again. I reluctantly paid and I really teared over the incident. Imagine a 52 year old man being blackmailed..... I feel really helpless that I started suffering insomnia.

    Just when I thought it is over I realized my hotel's occupancy fell this month. It was so bad that occupancy rate was as low as 20%. As much as I hate I contact the seo specialist about it and he said there was some google update??? I don't know what that means and I asked for more clarification about it and he just sent me several links. Turns out there was some big google update and he said my website was punished and has disappeared from google. I was angry and confused and I asked him to get it fixed asap. He said there's nothing he could do. He suggest me to start over with a new website and then he said he can help me create a new website design for $5K and a seo package of $1K deposit and a monthly fee of $800. I told him to go to hell and I ignored his emails.

    Just a few days ago I realized my whole website has been vandalized. It redirects to a gay porn site. Now all my Yelp and google places are flooded with negative reviews claiming that I overcharge occupants, scamming others, run down rooms and so on. And just like that my whole business has been wiped out.

    What should I do?
     
  2. Mrkoco

    Mrkoco Senior Member

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    Wow so touching...... Some humans can get so disgusting..... Have you Tried reseting your website login details ?
     
  3. Sheepp

    Sheepp Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

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    Wow.

    I must say I read it entirely and that kinda makes me sad...

    Here are my 2 cents to help you the best I can :

    - I guess you learned the lesson, and that won't help you right now, but you should've said no to the very first blackmail attempt. Especially if the guy is in the foreign country, if it starts like that, it will get worse quickly if you agree. Anyway
    - For your business, best you can do is first, fixing your website (have you a backup of the old site ? or at least fix the redirection), then fix your reputation. If you feel able to do it, read the ORM sections on this forum. Otherwise, if you feel like it, you have to hire an ORM guy (this time, from a legit business in your country you can sue if such things happen, please) that will help you sort the bad review issue.

    Unfortunately, all of this will take time, and there's no "quick fix" or magical trick I can give you, you just got scammed, as sad as it sounds.

    I'm very sorry for you. Feel free to ask me questions in PM if you need, and best of luck for your business. Next months will be tough but hold on tight, your business has potential as you already touched success.
     
  4. DrDuran

    DrDuran Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

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    that is one bullshit story i feel so sorry and really hope you get it sorted,

    its a shame because this guy had it so good from you and he started seeing the vulnerability in this,

    once they see you're vulnerable they can take you to the cleaners.

    im no tech expert but these guys here can give you alot of help
     
  5. Haraki

    Haraki Newbie

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    Makes me wonder how many of you are giving money to this scammer. Maybe you're not the only one.

    Have you posted your experience in other forums? Maybe there are others out there but too ashamed to speak out.

    I suggest that for now you should secure all evidence - payments, emails, chats, screenshots, voice/video, anything related to your deal with this guy. You could also capture his IP even if, most likely, he's using vpn.

    Keep a backup of everything. If one day it becomes police matter you'll need them.

    Check the internet laws of India and try to find similar cases as yours.

    Hope this helps.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2018
  6. seoz87

    seoz87 Senior Member

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    Assuming from your story, the most troublesome part of this is you cant do anything by yourself. Although people are suggesting several solutions here, i don't see any possibility of you doing it by yourself. So here is something that you can do.to minimize the damage.


    1. Firstly claim your pages on yelp and google business. go to these urls and read the instructions. if you can sign up on BHW then you can do it too
    https://biz.yelp.com/support/claiming
    https://support.google.com/business/answer/6174435?hl=en
    https://www.yelp-support.com/article/How-do-I-claim-a-business-page?l=en_US

    2. if you already claimed/verified your pages, get in touch with support and explain them that someone is posting fake reviews on your page. Tell them the whole story and they will help you.
    https://support.google.com/business/answer/4566671?hl=en
    https://www.yelp-support.com/article/Why-can-t-some-business-pages-be-claimed?l=en_US


    3. Remove all the negative reviews and your old website from this page.

    4. You can start a new website for your hotel. It should not cost you more than $100 - $200 with online room booking. That's the best route to take as your old website may not be of any use even if you recover it.

    Now the fun part

    1. Share the Contact details of that piece of shit here. Email address, contact number, bank details, anything you have of this asshole. Share it here and we'll try to track him
    2. You can also submit a complaint against him by using your embassy or FB. you can also search for some indian lawyers website and send them the complete case. You don't have to pay them anything. Just send them the story and tell them that you are interested in suing him. Share the asshole's details with them . The law firm itself track that person and blackmail him to either pay them or face the law. :D
     
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  7. Haraki

    Haraki Newbie

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    Can't wait!

    I bookmarked this page.
     
  8. Zwielicht

    Zwielicht Administrator Staff Member Moderator Jr. VIP

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    What a mess.

    I've had clients deal with shoddy search engine optimisers and web designers who deface the website after ripping off their (now my) clients, but never to the extent you experienced. The worst one I saw was a lawyer who contacted me about fixing her site after some guy she was paying $600/month to let it go to hell. The site was filled with casino links, and I ended up finding evidence that the "web designer" she was paying not only didn't do squat, but the web designer let his brother turn the site into a link farm.

    Anyway, I'll try to clear up some of the things you might be confused about in your post.
    When you hire a real SEO, the "maintenance ranking" monthly retainer is because SEO is an ongoing effort. In order to stay on top of your competitors, many search engine optimisers charge a monthly fee either to continuously build citations, build backlinks, or improve the on-page SEO of your website. However, scam artists like to use monthly maintenance retainers as a way to get some extra cash for doing nothing.
    Sounds like he was doing basic stuff, but it's not worth what you were paying. Don't get me wrong, it can help out as you saw, but the guy was over-charging you from the get-go.
    So this is what he did here: he charged you an extra $200/month to set up Google Analytics on your website and possibly Google Tag Manager (since he was supposedly tracking your conversion rate). That code he was talking about was a Javascript snippet for Google Analytics. https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/6086097?hl=en
    You know now that was a red flag.
    That's just terrible.
    It's a tough position to be in. You want to get rid of him, but then he's over here threatening to destroy your business.
    Don't be surprised if those screenshots he was sending you turn out to be fake.
    These guys like lying for sympathy to get you to pay them. As a moderator here, I often ban clowns from the forum like that "SEO" you hired. I've also heard just about every excuse in the book (including the "mother in the hospital" one), and they always turn out to be rubbish. I think the worst excuse I heard was some guy saying he needs to scam people because he can't connect to the Internet and his dog is dying. I banned that joker faster than he could blink.
    This is where you made the right call. Unfortunately, you might be in a situation where you either have to start a new website or try to salvage the one you have. That lawyer client of mine I mentioned at the beginning of this post wanted to salvage the website, but for a long time after I rebuilt it, there were people trying to get back into the website. Bruteforce attempts were made on a daily basis, so I had to bump up the site's security to discourage them. Eventually, they gave up and the site has been clean since then.
    Before you do anything else, make sure you're the only one who has access to your accounts. Change the emails and passwords to everything you let that guy have access to. Now, unless you plan on rebranding and changing your contact information to avoid that psychopath you hired, online reputation is the next step. I actually posted a guide on proactive ORM not too long ago, but what you need is called reactive ORM. There may be a guide on it in the ORM section of the forum, but I'm not too sure.

    Most of those review sites should have an option to report fake reviews. Chances are that the SEO clown you hired wasn't smart about the way he posted the fake reviews, so you shouldn't have a difficult time getting them removed.
    https://www.techwyse.com/blog/socia...-report-fake-reviews-on-google-yelp-facebook/
    https://support.google.com/business/answer/4596773?hl=en

    If you choose to work with someone from this forum for ORM, SEO, or web design purposes, please read my BHW safety guide first. Scammers are everywhere on the Internet, and I don't want you to hire the wrong person and end up in this situation all over again. If you're in doubt about someone, ask me to send you a private message by posting on my profile or send me a PM directly once you have 15 posts and I'll look into any members for you. Additionally, keep in mind that members with yellow usernames are not allowed to sell here, so report any business propositions you receive from them.

    Best of luck to you and I hope you get this issue resolved as soon as possible.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 17, 2018
  9. LGNDFRVR23

    LGNDFRVR23 Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

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    I've read the entire story and I wish you all the best Mike.
     
  10. marlboroXXL

    marlboroXXL Newbie

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    What a power Google can have on business and also on private life. Do not argue with your wife about this asshole. After all that happened, you have found the right place and it can only get better. Listen to the advice of moderator. I wish you and your wife all the best.
     
  11. If you need help setting up your hotel website I offer you my help free of charge.

    No catch, or strings, at all and I wont ask for anything in return in whatever way or form possible and/or imaginable.

    Only caveat is that I only create WordPress based sites, so if you need another setup let me know and I can have a look and see if I might be pull that off.

    Let me know!
     
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  12. Unreliable Witness

    Unreliable Witness Power Member

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    I sympathise.

    I'd start out with a new website on a new domain name. It is hard to recover a penalised domain, and it doesn't sound like there was much value left in the old one anyway.

    I'd still try and remove as many fake reviews as possible. But be aware that there will be a limit to what can be done. What goes on the Internet generally stays on the Internet. Reputation management is usually about burying the rubbish rather than removing it altogether.

    Get plenty of good testimonials for your new website. Contact previous customers and ask them to give you a review. Don't just ask whether they can review your hotel, but ask more in depth questions so that they give you an emotional story, not just a "I stayed here. It was great.".

    If you hire anyone for web design, SEO, PPC etc, make sure they are a legitimate business. You wouldn't hire someone to do your gas plumbing if he walked off the street, so don't let unknown people do anything else for your business.

    SEO done properly is expensive - really expensive. It may be cheaper in the short term once you have launched a new website to drive traffic to it using PPC. PPC needs to be done properly as well though.

    You might also consider starting a "journey" thread on this forum. Don't make any details about your website or your business public. However, if you write posts saying what you intend on doing at each step along the way, there are plenty of experienced members of this forum who will be able to tell you whether what you are doing is good or not. I'm sure your recovery would interest many people.

    If you need any advice, I'll gladly offer some for free as well. Just reply on this thread.

    Just to reiterate - don't tell anyone on this forum what your business is until you trust them, and don't hire anyone until you know they are capable of doing the job. There are a lot of scammers on this site - probably including the guy who scammed you.
     
  13. dhia27

    dhia27 Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

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    I don't think starting a new website will solve the problem. If the guy still wants to harm your business, a simple research will lead him to your new site. I know you can still hire new SEO and/or ORM (online reputation management) people, but that might not help much if the guy is insisting on what he's doing.

    I suggest you go the legal route, even if he's continents away. That will scare him at least, and hopefully have him standing in front of judges.

    As for your business website (and reputation), fellow members have advised you should claim the bad reviews/penalties to be removed.
    You might be able to get someone restore you the website from a backup (if you have one) or the wayback machine, or simply have someone redesign it for you from scratch.

    That's my opinion. If you need any further help, feel free to reply here or via PMs.
     
  14. Visual Eagle

    Visual Eagle Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

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    Oh wow this is really sad to hear... What are people doing it's just sad. Hope you sort everything out!
     
  15. dbdnvikas

    dbdnvikas Regular Member

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    I am really sorry, someone from my country did this to you.

    You can go forward with creating a new website and ORM. If he continues to do so tell him that I will take legal action against you. Just tell him I have relatives in India, it's easy to scare people here with the name of police and legal actions. In terms of making calls, I can certainly help you out.
     
  16. Dresden

    Dresden Supreme Member

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    Wow OP, I am really sorry for what has happend.
    Not much you can do but start over... at least now you know what has to be done to get your business booming again.
     
  17. knopper

    knopper Jr. VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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    You're paying real good amount of money to the SEO Specialist, he became greedy and taking advantage of you as you don't know much about the seo stuff.

    Being a citizen of India, if something happens like this to me I'll approach the Cyber Crime department in my state (India has 29 states). I don't know if you can approach that person's local cyber crime dept and complain. BUT, here in BHW there are many Indians who reside from different parts/states of India. May be you can tell us where this guy is from and someone from that area can help you solve this issue.

    If this guy is from Tamilnadu, He's going to ask you for one more BONUS next month. It's Tamilnadu's New Year Fest on April 14th. So, Hurry up!
     
  18. WPninja

    WPninja Junior Member

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    Just a simple answer---- If you've got the domain control, then you can regain everything, just make sure you're in right hand :)

    And as far I know, Google now doesn't give any shit on negative SEO
     
  19. Unreliable Witness

    Unreliable Witness Power Member

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    I disagree. The cost of going to court is huge.

    The police aren't going to be interested in pursuing this, especially when the injured party is in a foreign country. The average policeman won't understand what has happened or what the consequences are. Proving criminal damage by neg SEO is really difficult as well.

    If you have enough information about who he is, you could try to sue him, but paying for a lawyer to take on your case will be very expensive and there is guarantee of getting back the money spent. Winning isn't certain. I bet there isn't even a signed contract. The scammer could simply say that SEO isn't certain and that he did the best he could.

    In between the cost and the worry, there's a business to run and a life to lead.

    Liewise, the scammer probably has better things to do in the long run than continuing to vandalise someone's business for the sake of it.

    I do agree with you on the rest though @dhia27 - particularly that there is every possibility that the scammer finds the new website soon after it is launched and links a whole load of spam to it. I have no suggestions as to how to avoid that except maybe to promote the business by means other than SEO for a while.
     
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  20. Zwielicht

    Zwielicht Administrator Staff Member Moderator Jr. VIP

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