• false product and service reviews are a problem

Buying Fake Google Reviews? Consider Legal Risks Before you buy a review.

Thanks to the rise of sites like Yelp, consumer opinions, and online reviews significantly impact your company’s success.

A BrightLocal survey in 2017 discovered that 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses.

The same study found that 86% of customers cannot always spot fake reviews, meaning that they are likely to fall victim to false advertising. 

Furthermore, almost half of respondents will not consider a company unless it has at least a four-star rating.

Entrepreneurs know how well positive ratings can impact their business.

A study from the Harvard Business School discovered that a one-star increase on Yelp led to a 5-9% revenue boost. This fact leads to the unfortunate temptation of leaving fake reviews for better points.

Unfortunately, only about 15 out of 1,000 customers will ever leave any feedback.

How many happy customers passed up a chance to dramatically help a local business?

You can imagine how enticing it must be to write just one or two reviews to raise your companies profile.

A few five-star ratings would not hurt anyone, right?

It might seem harmless enough, but there are massive legal consequences for fake reviews and other deceptive practices.

Did you know that reviews are one of the top ranking factors for Local SEO?

I am sure you have seen the online ads for “get paid to review websites or “make money reviewing Amazon products.”

reviews for sale on konker

Yes, you can buy reviews for Google here!

The Prevalence of Fake Reviewers Online

Internet anonymity protects people from being held accountable when writing reviews. Or does it?

Unfortunately, Gartner estimates that fake reviews make up 10-15% of all ratings. A computer science professor at the University of Illinois believes that 30% of grades are false. The bitter reality is that many companies will publish false reviews if given a chance.

One study compared ratings on two well-known travel sites: Expedia and TripAdvisor. Expedia only allows consumers to leave feedback on hotels they have booked, but TripAdvisor has no such barriers. 

Researchers discovered that several independent hotels have far more positive ratings on TripAdvisor than Expedia.

Furthermore, those hotels’ competitors have an inordinate number of negative scores. Judith Chevalier, a Yale University professor who co-authored the study, estimated that fraudulent or paid reviews compromised up to 10% of all ratings.

testimonials of customers who bought reviews

Yes, these customers even leave testimonials. Are they real?

Buying Google Reviews, Busted

Some places have the gall to purchase reviews and boost their ratings.

One anonymous Cracked writer received about $10-25 per post.

Some companies found even cheaper options and decided to buy reviews from offshore freelancers for as little as $1-10 each or buy google reviews from Fiverr. It is a minimal cost compared to the number of revenue companies hope to generate.

Be warned though, businesses pay a much higher price when faced with damaging government fines.

Take the case of Legacy Learning Systems, a retailer of music instruction DVDs.

The company found themselves in deep trouble when the government found that they were purchasing fake reviews and faced a $250,000 fine.

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Amazon Cracks Down on Paid Reviews

amazon paid reviews logo with graphic

Amazon paid reviews are also incredibly widespread.

A 2017 study by ReviewMeta discovered a surge in suspicious activity. Many products received numerous five-star ratings within a few hours or days after being posted.

The company took steps to counter these deceptive practices by prohibiting incentivized reviews for most products.

Some companies would offer full refunds for reviewers who bought the product and left a glowing review. Strangely enough, most Amazon fake reviews are quite lengthy and read like brochures. Some even contain videos and pictures.

It appears that Amazon’s efforts have paid off to curtail this practice.

In 2016, ReviewMeta listed most new Amazon reviews as suspicious, but that number is slowly decreasing. The company has invested in several systems to detect paid reviews.

A spokesperson for Amazon said that majority of ratings are sincere. Furthermore, the company has taken legal action against over 1,000 defendants for Amazon fake reviews and has begun using an Amazon review analysis tool Fakespot to weed out fraudsters.

Does Fakespot work?

A vendor called VIP Deals was hit particularly hard by Amazon’s countermeasures.

The merchant sold Kindle Fire cases and offered full refunds to customers who left glowing reviews.

The reviews gave VIP Deals a 4.9 rating and their Vipertek black leather case received 92% five-star reviews.

Amazon quickly struck back and took down the reviews, product, and product page. 

Google Has a Serious Problem With Its Review Platform

Google's logo and a word Fake written on top

The world’s biggest website is not immune from fraudsters either.

SEO expert Mike Blumenthal stumbled upon what looked like a vast conspiracy. He began investigating various suspicious users with names like “Wopper M” and “charlz Alexon.” Blumenthal uncovered a network of spammers who leave Google fake reviews for companies they have never visited.

He compiled a database of over 100 known spammers. One notorious offender went by Shazedur Rahman and supposedly visited a dentist in Texas, fixed her phone in Canada, called a plumbing company in New York, hired a private investigator in Cebu, and bought a wedding ring in Israel. These events happened in under a year. Either she is the world’s most renown traveler or something fishy is going on.

80%+  of users search for local businesses,  meaning that Google reviews play a significant role in many purchase decisions.

Blumenthal claimed that it is easy for people to get away with fake Google reviews since the company is more concerned about systemic abuse.

SEO spam fighter Joy Hawkins regularly contributes to the Google my Busines forum where she helps business owners fight back against these unethical tactics.

However, Hawkins says that there are so many unfulfilled requests that it is almost impossible to keep up.

Entrepreneurs are often unable to fight back against anonymous one-star reviews if the reviewer does not have a shady history.

While Yelp prides itself on its ability on fighting fraud, Google has done little to be proactive.

Blumenthal stated that “review spam at this scale, unencumbered by any Google enforcement, calls into question every review that Google has.”

The Google review policy was recently updated, which is a small step in the right direction.

Yelp Aggressively Fights Back Against People Buying Reviews

Company logo of yelp with a word fake written on top and 5 stars below

In 2017, Yelp had over 142 million ratings and 145 unique monthly visitors.

How many reviews does yelp have

A Nielsen study during the same year discovered that 80% of Yelp users read customer comments before buying something. Unfortunately, this also means that Yelp fake reviews are incredibly prevalent.

Yelp goes to great lengths to filter paid reviews. Yelp suppresses reviewers including, but not limited to the following traits:

  • Leave multiple reviews a day
  • Leave positive ratings 80% or more of the time
  • Post reviews under 135 characters
  • Write similar remarks for each business

Sadly, Yelp often filters out legitimate reviews as well. This algorithm sometimes punishes those who are new and don’t have as much authority as senior users.

Some businesses have tried to avoid Yelp’s censorship by hiring freelance reviewers who have Yelp accounts that are at least three months old, have over 15 ratings (half of which must be unfiltered), and a minimum of ten friends.

Many paid reviews are merely lousy press by spiteful people who have never visited the place. This tactic is an unfortunate trend due to the internet’s outrage culture.

For example, Bon Appetit magazine sparked outrage when they published a video showing viewers how to eat pho.

Outrage internet users accused the magazine of cultural appropriation and shamed them for their inaccuracy. Many were upset that the video displayed a white chef showing people who to cook Vietnamese food.

Internet lynch mobs quickly sought to destroy the chef’s business by leaving fake Yelp reviews.

Thankfully, Yelp monitors any company’s page if they have recently been featured in the media.

Staff members quickly removed the Yelp reviews to preserve the restaurant’s integrity.

potential legal problems with fraudulent reviews

Legal Consequences for Paying for a Review

There are severe possible legal consequences for any businesses caught publishing false reviews.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been notorious when it comes to cracking down on companies with deceptive practices. The FTC can impose dramatic fines or even shut down a business if they discover foul play.

The FTC follows several strict guidelines to ensure fair play such as:

  • Endorsed reviews must be honest.
  • Critics must disclose endorsements if it would affect someone’s perception of the product.
  • Review administrators must actively moderate reviews and be transparent when publishing.
  • Companies cannot prevent lawful negative reviews.
  • Writers should be honest and not create paid false reviews.

However, the FTC is not the only one punishing fraudsters.

In 2013, the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched “Operation Clean Turf,” an initiative aimed at ending fake reviews.

Schneiderman uncovered 19 local businesses guilty of publishing fake reviews. The companies entered an agreement called the Assurances of Discontinuances to hold them accountable to sound practices.

Furthermore, the companies were forced to pay fines ranging from $2,500 and $100,000 and were publicly named and shamed by the New York government.

Business Consequences of Fake or Paid Reviews

Even without government intervention, there are plenty of reasons to avoid publishing fake reviews.

Hefty fines are not the only things that will cost you money; you might be losing customers too.

A Revoo study discovered that 95% of consumers distrust companies with no negative ratings as they suspect censorship or inauthenticity.

In fact, businesses with a mixture of positive and negative scores appear to be the most trustworthy.

spotting businesses who buy fake reviews

How to Spot Fake Reviews

Luckily, the trained eye can easily spot fake reviews and discern truth from fiction.

You can quickly learn the red flags that give away inauthenticity. 

First, they are usually either extremely positive or negative.

After all, their only purpose is to influence potential customers. Professor Yejin Choi from Stony Brook studied hotel reviews and found that one-star and five-star reviews were the most prevalent because customers usually leave ratings if their experience was either incredibly pleasant or exceedingly awful.

Choi compared ratings left by one-time reviewers with that of more credible critics. She then combined this data with a machine-learning algorithm that scanned for suspicious activity such as excessive superlatives and concluded that at least 72% of reviews were possibly fake.

Second, as Blumenthal noted earlier, a critic’s location often gives them away.

Many companies hire writers from countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh. Since these people never actually visit the places they are rating, their reviews can come from anywhere in the world.

If you ever notice a serial reviewer who writes about companies in Canada, Italy, and Alabama all in the same week, you might have found a phony.

Third, you can judge authenticity based on timing. Similar to the Bon Appetit incident, negative media coverage can lead to a firestorm of nasty illegitimate reviews.

Businesses looking to increase their ratings might also publish as many glowing testimonials in an as short amount of time as possible. This incident happened with the VIP Deals vendor.

Finally, pay attention to language. Legitimate customers will have real praises or complaints about a business (i.e. “they open early on Saturday” or “the device has a slow time connecting to the internet”).

Paid reviews will use general statements (“worst laptop ever!!!”) and flowery language (“such an amazing and incredible experience!”).

Additionally, some reviews are loaded with model numbers, formal names, and other jargon to possible influence SEO.

a man forming a fist on his hand to fight for people who buy fake reviews

Business Owners Are Starting to Fight Back

Sadly, many use fake negative reviews to damage people’s businesses. Start by being proactive and ensure your business has a positive review generation strategy in place.

Spiteful trolls and competing companies will often flood Yelp pages with one-star ratings to help hamper sales.

What can you do if you are the victim of false reviews?

First, you can try to petition the website to remove it. Yelp is more reliable at eliminating unnatural reviews than Google, but many entrepreneurs still have trouble getting rid of bogus ones.

If you cannot remove it, you should always reply. This will show consumers that you care about making your customers happy, even if those users are just trolls who’ve never seen your company.

Plus, you can fight for your reputation by disputing their claims.

how do you reply to a negative review

If all else fails and the damage is substantial, you can take legal action.

Hiring an attorney who specialized in libel or internet reviews can significantly aid your case. Bring any evidence of slander and wrongdoing. Your attorney may be able to prove that you are indeed the victim of defamation, unfair competition, or several other areas.

You can strike them with a lawsuit. Just look at the man who was fined over $8,000 for leaving a fake review for a restaurant that hadn’t even opened yet.

Conclusion, Earn Reviews, Do not Buy

The government and large companies like Amazon and Google have begun cracking down on reviews and punishing fraudsters.

There are no surprises as to why fake reviews are so prevalent – they are simple to write and often untraceable.

It might not be possible to purge this practice from the internet entirely, but it is possible to educate more consumers about what they read. I also understand how the FTC works. They make an example out of a few people, very publically.

Do you want to be that business?

In 2017, the world saw perhaps the most significant crackdown on fake news ever.

It is about the time to do the same for online reviews.