Oops! Businesses Caught Posting Fake Reviews Online

August 22, 2012

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Every business – no matter the size – gets a bad review. What spells the difference is how one responds to a bad review.

Unfortunately, a number of businesses today seem to feel that the best way to counter the impact of bad reviews is to write – or have someone write – fake ones. As an advocate of best practices in online reputation and review management, ReviewTrackers considers this black-hat tactic of fake online reviews as a huge no-no. Why? Let’s check out some of the reasons:

It’s not ethical, and it’s probably illegal. We’ll spare you the lesson on ethics in an ultra-competitive business world. But just so you know: writing and posting fake reviews online can lead to nothing but customers getting disappointed with your actual product or service. Even if what you offer does happen to match the fabricated glowing reviews that customers find online, it’s still not a fair way to work and run a business, and your competitors and customers alike may soon hate you for it.

Your business (page or listing) can get banned, suspended, or penalized. Online review sites like Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, and Expedia, among many others, are cracking down on reviews written by someone hired or paid by a business. The likely consequences? A red flag, a temporary or permanent ban, a suspended account, and a dip in your search rankings: things that you don’t want to happen to you, and that will almost certainly damage your online reputation. There’s also the very real possibility that after gaming the system, no one will trust your listing ever again.

You can get caught, be fined, and sued. It’s not just the review sites cracking down on paid and fake reviews. The FTC is, too (along with a number of consumer advocacy groups and organizations). Just last year the Federal Trade Commission slapped a $250,000 fine on a company that hired affiliate marketers to write reviews. (See below.) Sure, such a scheme may work for awhile, but with it, you also run the risk of incurring legal costs and damages, hefty fines, and tons of bad publicity. It’s just not worth it.

It destroys your credibility and the review sites’ authority. You might want to rethink things if your idea of review management is to pay employees, freelance writers, or bloggers to write fake glowing reviews. Why? Because this tactic makes reviews of your business less credible. It also diminishes the impact of the review sites you’re actually posting on. Sure, people may still read your reviews, but soon enough they won’t trust what’s being said or written about you. Which kind of defeats the purpose, right?

Still contemplating writing fake reviews? We hope not. (If you need help with online review monitoring and management, don’t hesitate to contact us!) Anyway, if the above reasons aren’t enough to convince you to handle online reviews ethically, we hope that the below examples will.

Businesses Caught Posting Fake Reviews

Lifestyle Lift charged with “astroturfing”: One of the breakthrough cases that demonstrate how much faking your reviews can cost you is this one in 2009 involving a cosmetic surgery company called Lifestyle Lift, which was caught having fake customer reviews written by its employees. For “astroturfing” – creating fake, deceptive grassroots campaigns online – Lifestyle Lift had to pay a settlement of $300,000 in penalties and costs to the state of New York. In a New York Times article, Governor Andrew Cuomo (then NY’s attorney general) stated that Lifestyle Lift’s “attempt to generate business by duping consumers was cynical, manipulative and illegal.”

Amazon seller caught bribing people to post fake reviews: According to a story that appeared earlier this year at the Digital Journal, a merchant on Amazon called VIP Deals was alleged to have been offering refunds to customers for the Kindle Fire cases that they purchased: refunds given in exchange for positive online reviews. Amazon soon found out about the shady rebate and, in accordance to guidelines that prohibited compensating customers for reviews, took down all of VIP Deals’ Kindle Fire case reviews. Both the product and product page also became unavailable.

Legacy Learning Systems tarnishes its legacy: Last year, a Tennessee-based music instructional DVD series seller called Legacy Learning Systems was fined $250,000 by the FTC for paying people to write positive reviews of its guitar courses. These paid affiliates pretended to be regular customers on various review websites, so the FTC got serious and charged them for their deceptive marketing and advertising methods.

Oops! Businesses Caught Posting Fake Reviews Online

Grahamwich sandwich shop gets bad review before even opening: Not keen on faking reviews and deceiving customers? We support you 100 percent. But even so, be extra vigilant anyway. Sometimes, a fussy, unfair customer (or an annoying, insecure competitor) may decide to write bad reviews of your business, as demonstrated by this story that appeared in Time Magazine. In 2010, a Chicago sandwich shop called Grahamwich received a one-star Yelp review before it even opened. How did this happen? Well, a customer missed the part of the listing that said the shop wasn’t actually open yet; this customer got mad after seeing that Grahamwich was closed, and thus vented it all out on Yelp.

Furious former employee strikes back against French Manor house: It’s not just your competitors and customers who may suddenly give your business fake bad reviews; your former employees – particularly those who didn’t exactly leave your company in the best of terms – are equally capable of doing the same thing. An investigation by online reputation defender Kwikchex found that an ex-employee of a French Manor house hotel had written defamatory and malicious remarks on review site TripAdvisor. After the discovery, the ex-employee’s fake, fury-driven online reviews were removed – and complaints were made to the police.

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