When Brad Nyberg received an email from what seemed like a potential client asking about a photography session, he happily responded with information about his studio. But the subsequent response was less cordial. The emailer threatened to launch an online smear campaign against his business unless Nyberg paid $299.
Nyberg ignored the obvious scam, filing the correspondence away. But warnings kept coming. "Hey, I don't know if you got my last email, but negative reviews are going up now," read one. He ignored those too.
Soon, fake Yelp users started to post scathing reviews of his studio.
That left Nyberg and his wife, Renee, to call all the online business review sites where they'd been targeted in hopes of clearing their reputation. So far, they've only managed to get one bad Yelp review removed.
Now they're pleading with clients to post honest reviews -- good or bad, as long as they're truthful. Beyond that, their hands are tied.
The scam has targeted photographers throughout the country, Nyberg says. He heard through the grapevine that a studio in Kansas City and another in New Jersey had received the same threats.
Photography is a passion job, he says, so it's not like anybody in the industry is raking in cash.
"They targeted us, but they could use the exact same message to target plumbers or florists or other small businesses," Nyberg says. "A company like Target has the resources where they could have their lawyers go out and brush the negative reviews. But a small, two-person outfit like my company, we can't afford that."
The Nybergs bonded over photography as a hobby when they started dating about nine years ago. Then they started shooting friends' weddings. With the recent birth of their third child, they decided to take a leap to the dream of owning their own business. The studio is their only source of income.
"Normally this month is our big booking month, where we book out a couple more summer events and also next spring," Nyberg says. "It's been really quiet, and we don't know if that has to do with the negative reviews. Everything we get comes from online, so if they search wedding photographers and a bunch of negative reviews come up for us, they'll just go to the next photographer on their list."
[UPDATE] 5:48 p.m.
Nyberg Photography now has only five-star reviews on Yelp.
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