Lawsuits over negative reviews have risen in recent years along with sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List and TripAdvisor that let customers evaluate businesses. (Bigstock)

Often before I patronize a business or buy a product, I go online to see what others experienced. I don’t always take every word as the truth, but the tales of woe and praise help in my decision to spend my money.

Online reviews can be helpful, but for some businesses, a bad review can lead to losses. So, some businesses are fighting back and suing individual reviewers, writes The Washington Post’s Justin Jouvenal.

“Lawsuits over negative reviews have risen in recent years with the popularity of sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor and others that allow users to rate and provide feedback on businesses,” Jouvenal writes. “The reviews have become an increasingly important factor in generating new customers — or sending them fleeing.”

Jouvenal profiles one such customer who wrote a negative review about a dog obedience class. The dog owner, Jennifer Ujimori, was hit with a $65,000 defamation lawsuit.

The Virginia woman is fighting the lawsuit to make a point: “People should be free to express their feelings about their service providers. Companies using the legal system to silence their critics has a chilling effect on First Amendment rights,” Ujimori said.

The customer in this case hopes to get Virginia legislators to pass what is known as an anti-SLAPP law, which allows judges to quickly dismiss cases that involve First Amendment rights. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” according to Cornell University Law School.

Many states have adopted anti-SLAPP laws in “the interest of protecting free speech” and to “provide for speedy hearings of the claims and the possibility of the defendant recovering legal fees and punitive damages,” the law school’s Web site says. The District, Maryland and more than half of the states have anti-SLAPP laws, Jouvenal reported.

This is a fascinating story, and if you frequently write reviews, you should read it.

Color of Money Question of the Week

Do you think customers have the right — with immunity — to voice their complaints online if they are unhappy with a service or product? Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. I’m not a fan of anonymous comments.

Live chat canceled

I’m so sorry, but today’s regularly scheduled online chat is canceled. Please join me next week, and check out the transcript of last week’s chat if you missed it. We had some really good discussions.

Sales begone

Frequent retail sales may be going the way of the dinosaur, writes Sarah Halzack, The Post’s national retail reporter.

When the economy tanked, retailers enticed customers into their stores by holding more sales. But the deep discounts didn’t end as the economy picked up. Why?

“Shoppers had become hooked on deals and weren’t ready to give them up,” Halzack writes.

But the super sale ride may be over. As Halzack writes, a stronger economy is causing some retailers to “put the brakes on their years-long promotional ride in hope that they can retrain shoppers to buy things at full price.”

But will it work?

Experts don’t think so, Halzack says, “Retailers are likely going to face a serious challenge in weaning consumers off the drug of promotional pricing.”

But keep this in mind even when you buy things on sale: You never save when you spend. You may spend less, but you are not actively saving.

Don’t show me the money

I was touched last week by a number of stories about professional football players who have decided to take a knee and quit the game despite their multimillion-dollar contracts. They walked for a number of reasons, including concerns about their health.

So I asked: If you had an opportunity to make millions, could you walk away from the money like those guys did?

Devon Brown from Stuttgart, Germany, wrote: “For the sake of my health and how this would affect my family, I would definitely walk away from the opportunity to make millions. But before doing so I would get all my financial affairs together and have a plan on how my family and I would adjust our lifestyles, since we might have a significant drop in discretionary funds. Lastly, I would become an advocate for other individuals looking to make this decision in case they needed personal testimony or guidance moving forward.”

Loved that comment. It’s definitely what I would suggest, which is learn to live below your new means.

Troy Miller from Nebraska had a different take. “Would not walk away,” he wrote. “Love the game. Risk versus benefits is a no-brainer.”

Even just three years in the National Football League versus 30-plus years in a factory seems worth the risk, Miller said. But he acknowledges, “I grew up and live in rural Nebraska, so football is like breathing.”

Wrote Norman St. Amour of Harrisburg, Pa.: “I would walk away if the conditions were illegal or the risk to life and limb was too high. A million dollars and the financial security it could buy, if you manage it right, would be very hard to refuse.”

One reader really understands the decision to stop playing football.

Lorna Gilkey of Alexandria, Va., wrote: “My perspective is unique in that I worked for the NFL Players Association in the 1990s and have a son who played football, and he suffered a serious concussion that 10 years later is still adversely affecting his health. Having millions of dollars (If you manage it wisely!) is great. However, it cannot buy you good health. I’ve seen far too many players, and my own child, suffer due to the harsh realities of football injuries. So, yes, I could walk away from the millions in protection of my health. Being alive and healthy means you can find other ways to legitimately make millions. But once you’ve hurt your brain to the level these players do on the field, no amount of millions will give you the quality of life you need later on.”

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to