A Barrack Heights woman had her credit card charged an extra $50 after she left an online review of a South Coast motel, with the owner saying she would only be refunded once the review was removed.
The experience went viral after she posted it to social media and the motel owner - who claims the since-refunded $50 was a "damage charge" because the "inaccurate" review damaged their reputation - now says they have been forced to temporarily close due to the fallout.
Last week Sharon Graham spent two nights at Mollymook's Ocean View Motel and after checking out, left a review when prompted to do so through travel website Booking.com.
Rating the motel a 6/10, Ms Graham wrote it had a "good location but the room was a bit noisy."
She said the view was "quite nice" and the room served the purpose but "was surprised that the room was not serviced as I stayed for two nights not sure if that's what they normally do or it was just overlooked."
After she had left the review, Ms Graham says she was sent a second invoice for her trip, with an extra $50 charge listed for: "Social media bookings false review".
"Will be refunded if you remove the review within 24 hours," the invoice said. "If not it will go towards legal proceedings."
A few hours later, Ms Graham received a third invoice, with another $50 charge attributed to "administration letter writing".
She has since received a refund through Booking.com and contacted her bank to put a stop to the further $50 charge being applied.
The motel managers Rachelle and Graham Fulton, responded to Ms Graham's review online, and also spoke to the Mercury to voice their frustrations over reviews and social media backlash.
They said the $50 charge was a damage charge, which they said was detailed in the room conditions, "because the review was damage to our reputation".
"I have to reply to a lot of reviews and that takes time," Ms Fulton said.
"That money is a damage bond - I can charge for damage to our motel, and for administration."
They said they refunded the money "straight away" when asked by Booking.com
Mr and Ms Fulton said they believed Ms Graham's review was not a "genuine reflection of her experience" as they said her room had been booked at a discounted rate without housekeeping.
But Ms Graham said she was not aware of this being the reason for a $10 a night discount applied to her room rate.
"We offer a clean, affordable room, and we're not supposed to be five stars," Mr Fulton said.
"We're the cheapest hotel with the best view and we took housekeeping away to keep the price low. It says in the room that housekeeping is extra and you should put the sign out."
"But if she'd wanted to have the room cleaned she could have just asked us."
Ms Graham's post about her experience has gone viral on Facebook, with almost 1000 people commenting about the $50 charge.
Speaking to the Mercury, the grandmother said she had not intended to cause such a fuss.
"I just wanted to stop this from happening to anyone else," Ms Graham said. "She has no right to bully me about an honest online review."
"Other than this, I really enjoyed my stay in Mollymook - it's a beautiful area and has been so affected by the fires, so I don't want to hurt tourism there at all."
The Fultons said they had received numerous threatening phone calls and bogus bookings since the viral post, as well as "about 100" false reviews appearing on Google and other review sites.
"I just want people to know that behind any small business is a lot of family Australians that work their butts off," Mr Fulton said.
"We love our guests and we're proud of how we look after them.
"There won't be any small businesses left soon because of these online reviews.
"We have no options - if we tell someone who is having a party to be quiet, they get on and get 10 of their friends to write fake bad reviews. But if we don't tell them to be quiet, then the other guests complain.
"It just takes one review to drag down your score.
"You get affected by the bad reviews. But $50 isn't anywhere near enough to cover the damage they do, so we won't be doing it again."
Lake Illawarra Command crime prevention team supervisor Sgt Peter Northey confirmed Ms Graham had contacted police about the incident.
However, he said police had been advised that it was a civil matter and would have no further involvement.
"Technically, this is classified as a civil matter because in [the motel's] clauses they can charge a damage fee, and it's not specified what that is for," Sgt Northey said.