DALLAS (CBS11) - A Dallas business owner is accusing Yelp of hiding good reviews of his coffee shop after he refused to pay them for advertising.
Bob Sinnott owns Toasted Coffee + Kitchen in Lower Greenville.
He said after months of non-stop phone calls from Yelp, he claims his favorable rating dropped after he finally told the company he would not pay for advertising.
"What I would compare it to, the mafia," said Sinnott. "You know, you do business with me or there's retaliation."
Sinnott feels Yelp is hiding many of his 5-star reviews in the "not recommended" section because he chose not to pay for Yelp services.
"The sales pitch is, pay us a monthly fee and we'll your help page," said Sinnott.
He claims there were constant phone calls and emails from Yelp pitching the company's services.
"It became what I would call borderline harassment," said Sinnott.
After posting on Facebook about his experience, Sinnott said his rating went from a 4-star to a 3.5-star rating.
Google rates Toasted at 4.1 and Facebook has the business at a 4.6 rating.
"I think they're a bully," said Meri Dahlke who owns Ten Bells Tavern in Oak Cliff. "I asked them, 'So you're telling me all our five-star reviews that get into the not recommended, if I advertise… Oh no ma'am we don't do that. It's our algorithm."
Dan Bradley, who owns clothing and gift shop Bullzerk in Lower Greenville, shared a similar account.
"They're really aggressive about, you need to do this and you need to do this," said Bradley. "Every time you tell them that you don't want to pay for it or it doesn't make sense, they have ten lines to give you."
Same Wynne recently opened Bowls and Tacos in Deep Ellum.
"At the end of the day, it's their system. It's their stars," said Wynne.
After months of saying no to Yelp, Wynn caved.
"Yeah I pay them," said Wynne. "My reviews got better."
A 2014 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found Yelp can legally manipulate reviews and businesses do not have a right to positive reviews.
Yelp insists it has never altered ratings for payment.
When asked about Sinnott's claims, a spokesperson for Yelp declined interview requests.
A statement was sent along with a screenshot of 14 reviews Yelp claims came from the same IP address belonging to Sinnott's Yelp account.
A spokesperson wrote that it is, "…a common behavior (often caught by Yelp) of those attempting to mislead consumers with fake reviews."
However, IT experts said if Sinnott and his customers are using the same WiFi offered at his coffee shop, they likely have the same IP address, but there is no way to truly know either way based solely on IP address alone.
"To me it's just the principle," said Sinnott. "Someone has got to stand up to this company and point out exactly what they're doing."
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