INDIANAPOLIS– The Indiana Attorney General had a strong message Thursday for businesses with policies that penalize consumers for writing negative reviews.
“Grow up,” said Curtis Hill, Indiana Attorney General, in an interview with Call 6 Investigates. “These types of policies are ridiculous. Certainly, from a consumer beware standpoint, if they see a policy like this, they should run.”
Hill’s office filed a lawsuit in Brown County Circuit Court on December 15 accusing Abbey Management, the hotel’s former operator, of violating Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.
The lawsuit criticized the inn’s former policy, which allowed customers to be charged $350 for negative reviews posted online.
Hill asked anyone who believes they may have been penalized for posting truthful reviews online to contact his office by going online to indianaconsumer.com or by calling 1-900-382-5516.
“We want to know about those kinds of things, because it is, in our view a violation of Indiana law,” said Hill. “It will create and foster bad service.”
The Attorney General emphasized Indiana consumers should feel comfortable in reviewing businesses, as long as they are truthful.
“This doesn’t mean it’s open season to say this place had cockroaches and it didn’t,” said Hill.
Hill said businesses can take action against fake or dishonest reviews by filing action in court.
“That’s what we have courts for,” said Hill.
Call 6 Investigates found other hotels with policies that require customers to handle gripes in person and on-site.
“I don’t have a problem with that because it’s a little difficult to address an issue with someone who is gone,” said Hill. “But, if you’re going to have that type of agreement, then you better make yourself available to your customers to be able to handle a complaint.”
The current operator of Abbey Inn, Amanda Sweet, told Call 6 Investigates she’s hiring a public relations firm to help get the facility back on track.
Sweet said Google took down the inn’s website because there has been so much traffic.
Yelp has launched a cleanup process of Abbey Inn’s page due to the number of negative comments.
“While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business,” read a message on Abbey Inn’s Yelp page. “As a result, your posts to this page may be removed as part of our cleanup process beginning Wednesday, December 20, 2017, but you should feel free to post your thoughts about the recent media coverage for this business on Yelp Talk at any time.”
Sweet said she’s received death threats since the original story aired, and that she plans to soon close the inn and eventually reopen it under a new name.
Sweet said she left a message for Katrina Arthur, the customer who was charged $350 after leaving a negative review.
Sweet’s father, Andy Szakaly, told Call 6 Investigates he put the policy in place to protect the inn from false reviews and “social media blackmail.”
“Several years ago the Inn began to experience what has become known in the hospitality industry as ‘social media blackmail’,” said Szakaly in a statement to Call 6 Investigates. “A guest would complete their stay, leave without making any complaints regarding their stay, then later demand a refund or they would post negative comments regarding the Inn on social media.”
Szakaly is a longtime attorney in Brown County and is serving chief deputy prosecutor until December 31.
Court records show the Indiana Attorney General’s office began investigating Abbey Management on April 18.
In the suit filed December 15, the office is seeking civil penalties of more than $5,000.
Curtis Hill said good or bad, consumers need to reach truthful reviews before deciding where to spend their money.
“Common sense and decency is the rule of the day,” said Hill. “These types of situations are not good for business. For a few hundred dollars of trying to pinch a consumer, I don’t think it’s worth all the aggravation that it could possibly cause.”
H/T: The Indy Channel