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My experience with a 'negative review' scammer. (westiseast.co.uk)
260 points by westiseast on Aug 2, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 78 comments

I wouldn't even worry about a subjective review like "this tea tastes like shit". Even if it's the finest quality tea in the world, someone is going to think it tastes like shit.

I would worry about reviews like, "ordered, never received product, called owner and he told me to 'fuck myself with a pointy stick'". That is significantly more damning, since it reads like an account of a factual event, rather than an uninformed opinion.

thankfully, I've never told anyone to fuck themselves after buying my tea :)

Well that's a huge bonus! Wish you shipped to the US. I'd buy some tea from you!

It will be happening soon! Start of September I'll be able to ship to the US.

One quick idea - add a mailing list for this to your homepage. Mailchimp is free, and voila - come September you can let those interested know they can order, and you'll start the month with a bump of sales :)

You have a good point there, it is impossible to define what is good and what not in flavors. It is like asking what is the best dog bread? And yes, the review about service is more important.

This guy (Brian) at the end admitted that he did what he did just because he was unfollowed in twitter. What a guy!

I'm not sure why some people react in that way when they are unfollowed. But why were they being followed in the first place? I know some companies like to follow every single person they can with the expectation they get followed back and then boost their subscriber numbers, and I think it's a silly game to play.

I once got followed by a new local radio station that was launching in my area (I work in radio and they seemed to be following every radio person in the region). I thought, fair enough, and followed them back.

A few weeks later, after they'd started up and the dust had settled, I had a look at their Twitter page. "Following: 0." The cheeky gits had followed everyone, got a bunch of followers in return, and then deleted us all! That was enough to lose them a significant amount of goodwill from me and I promptly unfollowed them.

Absolutely - good and bad is subjective, and I'm happy to accept that. My real anger came from the fact that these people were masquerading as professional tea reviewers, but then don't even have the decency to back up a negative review. If they'd written a long blog post slating my tea after ordering it, trying it fairly etc., then I would have been much more concerned with their opinions...


...That's a terrible analogy.

A house getting robbed isn't 'small stuff', and is in no way comparable to getting a bad customer review.

Sad (though sometimes good) fact of the Internet: there are lots of oddballs out there.

Just as there are people who cut you up on the road or hit people for no reason in real life, there are people who'll randomly try to ruin your day with seemingly no motivation (even some people on HN!). Keep your head held high, gracefully conduct yourself, and let them enjoy steeping in their own bile (ooh, a tea joke!)

Did you watch their tea review videos? OMG my 8 yr old could articulate a better description - like watching dumb and dumber. Maybe this was a case of professional jealousy. See what I mean here... http://healthyprofessionals.teatra.de/2011/07/26/the-tea-sho...

Wow, I really assumed you were exagerating but you were actually pretty accurate, they clearly know absolutely nothing about tea, or how to even have a semi-interesting conversation.

Plus, they just look plain shifty.

He seems unable to maintain eye contact with the camera and his gaze darts around. She seems agitated and keeps desperately staring at him.

I don't encourage anyone here to watch and increase their ad impressions. But in summary, they don't look like people you would ever want to spend time with voluntarily.

Thanks for the warning. To be fair, even big "companies" like yelp.com have been running extortion rackets for years and are still the darlings of the technical press.

"Darlings of the technical press?" Can you show some examples, please? The ones I've seen have been skeptical, or reported on alleged extortion, such as:


Do you have any more info on how yelp.com has been running "extortion rackets"?

I don't know much about yelp, and don't use it much, but have generally been led to believe that they are a good company (admittedly, by the tech press) so it'll be interesting to hear if you have actual examples of people getting scammed.

I personally don't know of anyone who owns a company that has been apart of any Yelp Extortion, but there has been several cases brought against them.


It seems that everything is one year old or older, so there is a hope that they don't continue this behavior.

>A federal judge...dismissed a class-action lawsuit accusing consumer review website Yelp of extortion...Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled last week that the original suit failed to back up small business owners' claims that Yelp was manipulating user reviews to force them to advertise on the site.

As a consumer I pretty much rule out negative reviews where the company in question responds sensibly.

Sometimes it gives me a more favorable view of the company in question, actually.

The only time I really pay attention to stuff like this is when there is a bunch of negative reviews and the company never responds to any of them.

Exactly that happened when I looked for a hotel in Laos.

The hotel in question was overall reviewed quite favorably. There where a few complaints, notably that two of the bungalows where very loud, or about the restaurant. Essentially quite small fry.

For each of those complaints the management took the time to address the specific issues, acknowledging specific problems and indicating how they intend to fix them.

This convinced me to book and I didn't regret it at all.

There is a big difference between boilerplate bullshit of the "your call is very important to us" variety and taking complaints seriously, responding to them on an individual basis and really trying to make it right.

That's often quite visible from how a company handles complaints.

BTW: The noisy bungalows where no more when I stayed there.

Yeah, methinks the general rule is: You don't really know a company until you see their reaction to shit happening. Deflecting blame and stonewalling are the worst kinds of response.

Thank you. I kind of agree - honest answers, acceptance of criticism etc. are key, especially when your talking about small companies that can't hide behind their size.

+1 When a company responds to these negative reviews, this shows that they are being honest on their part. Atleast they are addressing the review. Its good that this tea maker stand out for his company.

Should have gone here instead. I'm pretty sure that extortion is against Twitter's TOS.


Thanks for the link glimcat - I'm going to see how it pans out after a few days. Tweets fade fast, and if this scammer doesn't continue posting negative reviews, then I'm happy with that.

Please report him anyway; most people are decent and honest, and like to think the best of people, so I understand why you wouldn't want to report him, not to mention the hassle of writing it up and sending it to Twitter, who may not even act on it, but you can be sure if you don't take it further, the guy will be able to keep doing this with impunity. Some quote about evil and good men and doing nothing.

This is sometimes the best way. If you get them blocked from Twitter they may take that as meaning "the fight is on" and register many fake accounts to continue posting the reviews from.

Not doing the right thing for fear of retribution? Staying quiet essentially allows them to do the same to others.

Fear should never dictate the decision process. They need to be reported.

If the damage done is somewhere between zero and negligible and you don't know you are not the only one affected, inaction is sometimes the best policy. The idiot will get bored from getting no reaction and fade away. Reporting them won't stop them doing the same thing to others and more and inaction will - they can do the same thing to others using new accounts just as well as they can re-hound you with new accounts.

It is the same as arguing with idiots, as the old saying goes: they will drag you down to their level then "win" through a mix of experience and perseverance. (please note: this is a general comment, I'm not intending to call you an idiot at all here!). I dealt with bullies as lot in earlier life and random fools on the Internet are absolutely no different (aside from getting their apparent confidence due to relative anonymity rather than size of fighting experience). Sometimes ignoring them is the best policy for all (though, of course, use your judgement).

Of course if they are causing appreciable damage, the picture is different. And don't just report them to twitter. If they are trying to extort money from your business, report them to the relevant legal authority (if one is clear, this unfortunately can be difficult to determine).

True. I think I've done enough to embarass the guy and expose the way he does business. I always believe you should leave a door open for people to 'save' themselves, and that might mean that long term, he proves to be a valuable member of the tea community. Who knows.

Of all parties involved, Twitter is best-equipped to try and detect that behavior.

Tweets fade from the public stream fast. However twitter themselves can research his and your entire timeline and ban him just fine even if you can no longer access the conversation.

I've also learned a valuable lesson - however angry you are, openness and honesty will always win over in the end. Structure a logical argument, stand your ground, and idiots/scammers like Brian DiVita will expose themselves without you needing to lift a finger.

I fear you've reached the wrong conclusion. Haters gonna hate, and there is no way you can answer them all. The more you sell, the more crazy people will be among your "customers" and some of them will have a bad day and take it out all on your tea and you. The victory over one hater may make you happy for a day, but you can't scale it.

Focus on encouraging public praise from your happy customers.

I don't think the negative reviewer fully understands how Twitter works. In the thread you link to he says that he didn't delete the tweet, and that they "disappear after a certain number of days". They don't. Here's the tweet you're referring to (28 Jul):


and here's another from 14 hours ago:


I can't tell if that second one is supposed to be sarcastic or not.

I'd made the mistake on Twitter originally - I didn't see the tweet in my "Mentions" page, but it was still there on his feed.

Haha! Now I get it "My angry tweet at wasn’t directed towards you in first place.You Unfollowed me. I insulted your tea. Now go away. " /bigfacebrian

So he insulted the tea itself (which he hasn't even tried) because he was unfollowed on Twitter. That's illegal and you can send him a cease or desist letter telling him to unpublish any unfounded slander. However, just carry and selling your tea any ignore this douche bag.

It's a good lesson to 'assume good faith' where possible, even with negative reviews. Otherwise it may flare up a PR blunder. eg getting personal with the reviewer rather than responding with class like this guy did.

thankyou. I don't think I responded with too much class actually, and after I'd starting posting publicly about this, I felt like a douchebag myself. It could have easily backfired, so I think you're right. Assume good faith first, be very polite all the time, get your facts together, and then make your case.

It's a shame the OP doesn't ship to the US. Hacker News US people would probably buy a lot of tea and this is good exposure.

Yep - I will be shipping to the US very soon, but we're a new business. I've been testing supply chain, quality and bedding in the business before I take on the world :)

Agreed. I'm always surprised how many of us there are who enjoy good tea.

Unfortunately your experience is not something new and I've heard of considerably worse involving pointing dodgy links at competitors sites, "review" sites that charge to rebut a negative review, etc. It really sucks that people behave like this but good on you for the outing, maybe it will help.

Yeah - I can't be the first person whose had this "give me cash or I'll post negative reviews" scam. What can you say - the world is full of disreputable people.

Part of the blog post was about setting the record straight, and part of it was also to remind other people in similar situations they're not alone when this kind of thing happens. It's effectively bullying, and the worst part of bullying is suffering in silence.

Totally agree, as I say: well done for getting it off your chest. If people don't speak up about it things are unlikely to change. Though obviously if there is any justification whatsoever to the claim scratching that itch may be bad news.

Perhaps make a blog post about this (more detailed, with proof of this scum attempting to extort you) and let the tea lovers know to not follow their recommendations.

I'd like to think if anyone ever tried to do that to me, I'd be replying back with a response 10x fold.

Well, you've now nicely turned a negative review into some positive attention. Bookmarked for next time I run out of tea.

I think you did the right thing in defending yourself.

Suppose I was to stumble across an argument like that about any product/startup/business/whatever I'll almost certainly believe the one who argues in good grammer, without spelling mistakes and without vulgar tones. I think you did the best one can do.

I think you are righht to stand up for yourself, but in practical terms, it is doubtful his tweet wouldve ever been seen by any of your potential customers. It's not like Yelp, where the business listin serves as a repository for reviews and is often the first Google result.

yes, you're right. In retrospect, for my own sanity and sleep, I would have left this alone. But I guess the anger rises and emotions get the better of us all, and so I fought back. The business is something I've poured my heart and soul into, so I really responded poorly I think. Anyone who has been in a real fight (physical or mental) knows, even when you win, it doesn't feel good.

What this kind of scammers don't realize is that internet and subsequent proliferation of social media networks has leveled the playing field to a large extent. So, if people who are being arm-twisted become more vocal about it, it might come back to bite the scammers.

Kudos to the author. His research/due-diligence in tracking this guy illuminates to the community his nefariousness. If everyone took this type of a pro-active defense in injustice, the frequency would be much reduced.

"406 Following 350 Followers"

is not exactly a position of great influence.

No, you're right. However, most of those followers are other tea bloggers, tea companies and tea industry people. It's a small community. I'm new to the business, so an 'established' tea blogger posting lies about my company can have a really negative impact.

I see. It does seem that this guy is blatantly an idiot, which hopefully limits his influence... not that being so prevents one from being taken seriously in politics and other realms these days, I suppose. Bringing this extortionary behavior to public attention is exactly the way to go.

The following to follower ratio is a misleading statistic. The number of people you want to see Tweets from vs. the number of people that want to see your Tweets isn't relevant unless you're using Twitter as a publicity platform or are "collecting" followers like you collect Friends on FB/MySpace.

In this case the information is arguably very relevant, but I hope it isn't used generally for all users as it's a biased metric for judgement of quality.

Quality information is not always popular.

Interesting story. Well, this Brian guy is an idiot ("You unfollowed me. I insulted your tea. Now go away!"). Really?? But what I like most is the last comment on teatra: "Reviewers who judge about a tea quality from the point of someones followunfollow in twitter is… well such people earn 5bucks a week. Period." Nuff said :)

By the way, I need to try that stuff. Cheers from Hong Kong.

This isn't particularly on topic so I'll keep it brief. On your site you mention delivering via Amazon UK; I was curious how this works or if you had any links that explained the process better? I'm currently dabbling with the idea of a simple site and this isn't something I've seen before as a way of handling deliveries. Thank you.

there's positives and negatives to using Amazon FBA shipping service. I'd be happy to help you with a bit of information about my experience with them so far. There's contact details here: http://westiseast.co.uk/about/

This scammer has a scary bplan. I mean what would you do if the scammer sets up a bunch of twitter accounts and posting negative reviews and then demands money?

But if he becomes more than a very minor irritation he'll get sued or even arrested. I can't imagine what he's doing is legal, and his emails are evidence. Extortion in the flesh works a lot better because you can threaten someone and lie about it later. This guy is banking on the fact that it's just not worth the money and time to squash him like a bug.

(Just because you don't ship to the US doesn't mean he hasn't tried your tea, just that it's unlikely). But I like the rest of the post.

Right - it's extremely unlikely. The fact is, as a small business, I make it a point of communicating with my first treasured customers, so I know almost all of them by name. In almost all cases, I know how they've arrived at my business via friends, recommendations, family etc. And given the situation, I made a very confident guess.

Read the forum thread. Brian DiVita essentially admits that he never actually tasted the tea.

The site appears to be down for me and could not find any cache links. Anyone else facing this problem?

This concerns me because I can see it reaching an even bigger scale across all markets, especially in light of these new "reputation monitor" rackets where companies try to improve small b/m reputation online in places like Yelp & Urban Spoon.

Right now, there isn't any easy way to defend against it.

Wow, all this over some tea? I must try your tea.

"You unfollowed me. I insulted your tea. Now go away!" These kinds of people make me loose all hope in humanity.

Not too dissimilar from the BBB, which is a total scam/protection racket... You have an "F" rating... now pay us $1000 to "rate" you again and review that rating. 3 days later Boom you have an A.

More: http://feefighters.com/blog/the-bbb-is-a-scam/

For anyone else interested in this topic (or doubtful about the claim) 20/20 did an cover story on this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo8kfV9kONw&feature=playe...

I give you a hint. His domain is German, but he is in the USA. To be able to do so, he needs an Admin in Germany responsible to receive any complaints and legal actions. http://denic.de/domainbedingungen.html Read §3. Don't have the time to translate, I used google: "If the domain holder is not domiciled in Germany, he appoints a Germany-based administrative contact shall also be the person authorized by § 184 of the Zivilpro-zessordnung, § 132 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, § 56, paragraph 3 of the Administrative Procedure Code and § 15 of the administrative procedure Act and the relevant provisions of the Administrative procedure law of the countries."

I doubt he has one, and our laws are very strict about scamming. The keyword here is "Abmahung", which can become very expensive ..

It's a shared community site, with hosted blogs. The maintainers of that site and other bloggers all seem fine, and I think there's possibly some connection with Germany, hence the hosting. I contacted the owners, so they should be aware of what one of their bloggers is doing. It's up to them if they take further action.

There is no connection to Germany. http://www.whois.net/whois/teatra.de "www.teatra.de ( located in United States" http://teatra.de/about/

And in fact they violate the German law about telemedia. http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/tmg/__5.html Just an email adress and no phone number, no registrar of companies or entry in the commercial register in Germany and I'm very sure the admin won't be able to reply in German.

This means they will have to pay for the Abmahnung/warning from a lawyer between 800 and 1.000 € or if they don't provide the information within a given time a fee of 50.000 € for violating § 16 Abs. 2 Nr. 1 TMG (TMG = telemedia law).

The German law doesn't tolerate "unavailable" internet commerce.

Chinese Tea from the Min River Tea farm tastes like shit. Yeah I said it.

crap....I lost enough sleep last night over this :)

glad you have a sense of humor about all this. sounds like your tea business is ultimately coming along. What business doesn't start with customers that are friends of friends...

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