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To loyal users, Yelp.com is a helpful way to find and share reviews of local businesses, but some business owners claim that the website's business practices represent something closer to an extortion scheme.

Miami-based law firm Beck & Lee has joined with a San Diego firm to file a class action suit against the company, according to Mashable. The plaintiff in the suit, a Long Beach Veternary Hospital claims it contacted Yelp to see if it could delete a bad review. At first the representative refused, but then offered to hide or delete the review for about $300 a month.

The East Bay Express ran a story last year claiming that Yelp was essentially "the business of extortion 2.0."

During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared -- or negative ones appeared -- after owners declined to advertise.

Because they were often asked to advertise soon after receiving negative reviews, many of these business owners believe Yelp employees use such reviews as sales leads. Several, including John, even suspect Yelp employees of writing them. Indeed, Yelp does pay some employees to write reviews of businesses that are solicited for advertising. And in at least one documented instance, a business owner who refused to advertise subsequently received a negative review from a Yelp employee.

Yelp immediately denied any wrong doing and claimed the story was inaccurate.

"While we haven't seen the suit yet, anyone can file one, and since the allegations are false we will dispute them aggressively," a Yelp representative tells Mashable regarding the latest suit.


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