Scammers target cafe

The Surfing Lizard owner Tam worries scammers might target other businesses. Photo by Daniela Garbin.

THE owner of a popular Coogee cafe has seen off online scammers who threatened to ruin his business with negative reviews.

The blackmail started in December when The Surfing Lizard owner Tam noticed between two to four strange, one-star reviews appearing on the cafe’s public Google page.

What raised Tam’s eyebrows most was the timing of the reviews, which were always posted at 5pm and complained about items he doesn’t even have on the menu, such as “soggy pasta”, “bad steak” and “scam of a cheese platter”.

Some of the make-believe reviews, posted under scarcely believable pseudonyms such as Striling Samson or Philps Salts,  even accused the cafe of “food poisoning”.

Then came an email from the scammers, claiming to be based in India and threatening to continue the negative reviews unless the café sent through $600-$1000 in Apple gift cards.

“It didn’t affect us too much because we have a strong foundation with locals, the people that know us. But it was still stressful seeing the star rating dropping every day,” Tam told the Herald.

He believes the scammers targeted the café because of its large online following.

“Its unusual that a small local cafe like us has 21,000 likes and followers. It is not like we are influencers or a part of a big chain,” he said. 

“I had heard about this occurring to large fancy restaurants in the States, because they could afford to pay off the scammers.”

And while the scammers’ emails persisted with threats and entreaties, such as “we are from a poor country”, Tam refused to negotiate or even respond to them.

Instead, Tam kept followers of the cafe updated about the scam.

He also alerted Google to the scams, noting the internet giant had already posted that it was aware they were being used around the globe, but said he got no help at all.

Then after weeks of harassment and ignored threats, the scammers deleted most of their fake reviews without explanation.

“While the fake reviews might have scared off a few who hadn’t been here before, overall effects of the scam were limited, again thanks to our amazing local community,” Tam said.

The cafe owner is concerned the same scam tactics could be weaponised against other local businesses and suggests a similar “lack of reaction” response.

Tam has even more to smile about now, with the opening of a second Surfing Lizard Cafe at the Secret Harbour Surf Life Saving Club. 

“It should be ready in a few weeks’ time. We are very excited,” he said.

We give Tam 5 stars

A HUGE fan of The Surfing Lizard, I was appalled to hear scammers were blackmailing Tam, so I thought the best way to fight back was a trustworthy Chook review to let people know how good they really are.

My kids wouldn’t dream of a trip to Coogee Beach without stopping in for some of the Lizard’s moreish duck fat chips and enjoying the blue wrens playing in the park nearby. 

But this time I brought in some big guns – a journo mate who’d somehow slipped to “the dark side” and a Gran for Refugees.

The journo’s gone off crates of wine and cartons of cigarettes for lunch these days and opted for something healthy. 

“The Lizard’s Superfood Salad has been a best seller for the past two summers and there’s a good reason for that,” she said.  

“It’s packed full of the freshest vegetables from the market, including finely-sliced red cabbage, and is dressed with a unique house-made soya vinaigrette that brings the salad together in a perfect sweet/sour/salty way.  Healthy grains such as crunchy popped rice, black and brown rice and quinoa are enough to satisfy even the purest of health junkies. 

“And carnivores can also partake of this wholesome meal with the addition of grilled chicken breast or calamari.”

Our companion’s choice was made for her: “I couldn’t resist Grandma’s Fried Rice being a grandma of five and a member of the Grandmothers for Refugees Fremantle Group!” she said.

“My bowl of Grandma’s Fried Rice was brimming over and probably enough for two to three hungry grandmas. 

“It included a generous serve of shredded chicken, along with healthy vegetables like carrot and corn, boosted with yummy seaweed and topped with fried egg.  The authentic homemade chilli sauce was a perfect side. 

“It suited me as a gluten free lunch and can come with added bacon or as a vegetarian option.”

I chose fish and chips,  upgrading to the duck fat variety. I truly can’t think of anywhere that does better chips in Perth.

Crispy and hot, they come with a delicious home-made aioli and have that duck fat taste. Once you’ve had ‘em, it’s hard to go back.

The barramundi came out with a golden-brown batter and was tender and delicious. The salad was a bit reminiscent of the Superfood, with thin-sliced red cabbage, lots of fresh greenery and a yummy vinaigrette.

Surfing Lizard Cafe
Poore Grove, Coogee

Story and review by DANIELA GARBIN

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