(WCPO) - When you want to hire a contractor, roofer or realtor, what do you do first? Most of us look for online reviews.
But a new review site has many realtors crying unfair and trying to get it shut down.
"What bad review?"
Michelle Sloan is a realtor who prides herself in top-notch service as an agent with Sibcy Cline.
So she was stunned when a potential client emailed to say they found a terrible review about her online, stating in the email: "'My only concern is I have this bad review I found.' I'm thinking, 'What bad review?'" Sloan said.
It turned out Sloan had an "F" rating from a website called Realtor-Complaints.com (we are not linking to the site, to avoid boosting their Google rating).
Stunned, she looked around the site, and realized every realtor had the same rating.
"The exact complaint that was about me was about the realtor beside me," Sloan said. "Everybody had an F rating on the website, which is not good."
Pay to make it go away
Sloan looked for a way to complain, but soon found that the only way to make the bad rating go away would be to pay money through PayPal.
"It would cost me $100 to remove the complaint, $49 to make a response to the complaint," she said. "I thought it was pretty dirty!"
Realtors across the country are calling this a scam: Some have used words like "shakedown" and "extortion."
No one has yet found out who is behind the site. Its "who-is" shows it registered on an offshore island outside the U.S. where American laws do not apply.
Sloan is filing a complaint with PayPal, since the payments go through that legitimate company.
Other small businesses at risk
But she warns every small business owner -- whether a contractor, plumber, or realtor -- to be alert for bogus reviews.
"My reputation online is really important to my business," said said.
The National Association of Realtors has just posted a scam alert about this on its website. And it is pursuing legal channels to stop the site from using its logo without permission.
Meantime, if you are a consumer, be skeptical of all negative complaints you find about a potential business: What you find may not be true.
As always, don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.