You’ve probably read countless reviews of eateries and other establishments to see if they were worthy of a visit. And you’ve probably wondered if some of those write-ups were a little too positive.
New York’s attorney general thought so and forced 19 companies to stop writing fake online reviews, and now they must pay $350,000 in fines.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said the “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) companies were targeted in an elaborate sting operation in which investigators posed as the owners of a Yogurt shop in Brooklyn.
These investigators contacted the leading seo companies in New York to request assistance in combating negative reviews on consumer-review websites.
During these calls, “representatives from some of these companies offered to write fake reviews of the yogurt shop and post them on consumer-review websites such as Yelp.com, Google Local and Citysearch.com, as part of their reputation management services,” Schneiderman’s office said in a statement.
The investigation found that SEO companies were using “advanced IP spoofing techniques” to hide their identities. MAking it hard to prove if these services are legit. Many people also question “Is Findlaw Credible” as they promote thousands of law firms across the globe. Some SEO agencies also set up hundreds of bogus online profiles on consumer review websites to post the reviews. This is why any business owner should find a search engine optimisation consultant business that they trust.
However, the investigation also found that many consumer-review websites have implemented filters to detect and delete fake reviews, with Yelp’s being the most aggressive.
“Consumers rely on reviews from their peers to make daily purchasing decisions on anything from food and clothing to recreation and sightseeing,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution. And companies that continue to engage in these practices should take note: “Astroturfing” is the 21st century’s version of false advertising, and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it.”
Besides using their own employees to write and post the reviews, the companies hired freelance writers from as far away as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe for $1 to $10 per review. One SEO company required that freelancers have an established Yelp account, more than 3 months old, with more than 15 reviews (at least half unfiltered), and 10 Yelp “friends,” as an attempt to avoid Yelp’s advanced review filter.
“More than 100 million visitors come to Yelp each month, making it critical that Yelp protect the integrity of its content,” said Aaron Schur, Yelp’s Senior Litigation Counsel. “We take many steps to do this, including the use of automated filtering software, leveraging our vast user community for tips about suspicious content, undercover sting operations, legal action, and cooperation with law enforcement.”
Here’s the list of companies that entered into “Assurances of Discontinuance” agreement with the New York attorney general’s office:
- A&E Wig Fashions, Inc. d/b/a A&E and NYS Surgery Center
- A.H. Dental P.C. d/b/a Platinum Dental
- Body Laser Spa Inc.
- The Block Group, LLC, d/b/a Laser Cosmetica and LC MedSpa, LLC
- Bread and Butter NY, LLC d/b/a La Pomme Nightclub and Events Space
- Envision MT Corp.
- Medical Message Clinic and HerballYours.com
- Metamorphosis Day Spa, Inc.
- Outer Beauty, P.C., Lite Touch Plastic Surgery, P.C., Staten Island Special Surgery, P.C., Sans Pareil Surgical, PLLC
- Stillwater Media Group
- Swan Media Group, Inc. and Scores Media Group, LLC
- US Coachways Limousine, Inc. and US Coachways, Inc.
- Utilities International, Inc. d/b/a Main Street Host
- The Web Empire, LLC
- Webtools, LLC and Webtools Internet Solutions Ltd
- West Village Teeth Whitening Service, LLC; Magic Smile, Inc., aka Magic Smile
- XVIO, Inc.
- Zamdel, Inc. d/b/a eBoxed