It doesn’t pay to post puffery.
It began with Yelp, which recently implemented a consumer alert system designed to warn individual users – or “Yelpers” – about fake or paid reviews. The alerts come with a message that says, “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business. We weren’t fooled, but we wanted you to know because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules.”
One of the businesses caught and shamed by Yelp’s new consumer alert system is Bert Levi Family Jewelers, a jewelry and watch shop in San Diego, California. The consumer alert message appears on the shop’s Yelp page – before users can go on to read the reviews – and links to evidence that Bert Levi Family Jewelers has indeed been paying for reviews. This includes a screenshot of E-mail and Craigslist correspondence in which the business owner was offering as much as $200 for a positive review on Yelp.
(Check out: “Oops! Businesses Caught Posting Fake Reviews Online”)
“Please write a positive review about a new custom designed ring made for you or whatever else you feel comfortable writing about,” wrote Bert. “And please let me know when you have finished your review and also your PayPal info so that I can send you your payment.”
Bert Levi Family Jewelers currently has 87 Yelp reviews, 79 of which are five stars. This seemingly positive online reputation, however, will not mean much to Yelpers for as long as the page is associated with deceptive, paid-for review content.
Meanwhile, on Google+ Local, an SEO company in New York called AuroIN LLC was discovered to have posted at least 60 fake reviews – written, supposedly, by the SEO industry’s most influential figures, including Jill Whalen, Loren Baker, Larry Kim, Ross Hudgens, Erica Swallow, Robert Weatherhead, Jessica Storm, and Scott Hendison.
After Hendison himself found out that the SEO company was using his name to deceive people, Google+ Local removed the fake reviews and tagged AuroIN LLC’s page with a “Scam!” symbol. It has since begun to receive a stream of negative reviews and “poor to fair” ratings.
“If you’re looking for a company that’s endorsed by fake SEOs everywhere, then look no further!” wrote Google+ Local user Pete Meyers. “AuroIN LLC can get you 100s of reviews from fictional profiles in just days, probably for a fraction of the cost of legitimate, legal reviews that won’t get you sued. Act now, and they’ll throw in one endorsement from a famous political figure and one from an eighties cartoon character absolutely free. Not everyone has reviews from Winston Churchill AND Space Ghost!”
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