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Online blackmail scams unsettle Florida’s small businesses

"Blackmail Scams"
“Blackmail Scams”

April 2, 2024, marked an unsettling rise in online blackmail scams targeting Coconut Creek, Florida businesses. These scams exploit these businesses’ digital reputations as a lever for extortion. The primary strategy involves threatening to tarnish a company’s online standing via negative reviews or smear campaigns. An intimidating demand for ransom, usually in the form of cryptocurrency, typically follows.

Local entrepreneurs, such as David Merkatz of Broward Notary Public, are finding themselves caught in a distressing cycle of threats and demands. Merkatz became a target when a scammer demanded payment for positive reviews and threatened negative feedback if he did not comply.

Cyber extortion’s impact on Florida businesses

The threat’s magnitude could significantly impact Broward Notary Public’s reputation and customer base.

Despite being a victim, Merkatz stood firm, refusing to buckle into the pressures of the scammer and instead alerting the local authorities and cybersecurity experts about the issue. Even when the scammer followed through and posted a negative review under a pseudonym, Merkatz upheld his integrity and continued to resist.

The fraudster’s deposited adverse review was a stain on Merkatz’s online reputation. His struggle to remove the false review was compounded by what Merkatz perceived as indifference from the digital platform, heightening his frustration and concern over the platform’s commitment to cultivating reliable digital environments.

The negative comment was finally removed after media coverage of Merkatz’s circumstance. Despite the removal, dissatisfaction with the platform’s handling of the situation loomed, summarized in Merkatz’s remark, “They don’t care.”

In defense, a platform representative clarified their policy, which demands reviews be based on “genuine experiences” and valid information. They also revealed they had eliminated over 170 million reviews violating their guidelines. Nevertheless, Merkatz remained skeptical, pointing out how scammers can easily create multiple accounts to perpetuate fake reviews.

As cyber threats pose an increasing danger, law enforcement, and cybercrime experts echo the necessity of fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness and diligent security measures to protect businesses within our interconnected world.

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