NY Companies Faking Yelp Reviews Pay the Price

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In your time on the Internet, you've probably come across a review that just didn't sound sincere. That's because a growing trend shows that companies are paying overseas freelance writers or companies to write fake reviews for websites like Yelp.

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NY Companies Faking Yelp Reviews Pay the Price

  1. 1. NY Companies Faking Yelp Reviews Pay the Price In your time on the Internet, you've probably come across a review that just didn't sound sincere. That's because a growing trend shows that companies are paying overseas freelance writers or companies to write fake reviews for websites like Yelp. In Operation Clean Turf, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is forcing these companies to stop publishing/purchasing/writing fake reviews. Additionally, the companies have to pay fines as well. In an investigation called Operation Clean Turf at the New York Attorney General's office, 19 companies were found to be guilty of writing or purchasing fake reviews for publishing on social media. Schneiderman said, “What we've found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising...you assume you're reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.” The investigation identified companies like a charter bus operator, law firms, an ultrasound clinic, a laser hair-removal chain, a teeth-whitening service, a dentist and an adult entertainment club. The investigation lasted a year. It involved investigators pretending to be a yogurt store in Brooklyn asking companies for fake reviews. The 19 companies have agreed to stop creating and using the fake reviews and to pay over $350,000 in fines. Schneiderman believes companies in general will continue to use fake reviews, and social media websites, including Yelp, Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Citysearch, will need more monitoring by the websites and law enforcement to prevent false advertising on the Internet. Fake review writing on the Internet is known as a form of “astroturfing.” Astroturfing is a term for false advertising first used by U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen in 1985 when he compared false advertising posing as grass roots voices to AstroTurf, a brand of fake grass. In general, astroturfing is when an advertiser pretends to be the voice of someone else. Yelp was created in 2004 and acts as an online directory that helps Internet users find businesses in their local area. Yelp also features reviews by “real” customers. You can even use a “new business openings” search tool to find new restaurants and companies in your area. Yelp markets itself as, “the best way to find great local businesses.” Furthermore, Yelp estimates it receives 108 million unique visitors each month and has 42 million reviews. Out of these 42 million reviews, MarketWatch estimates that 20% of Yelp's reviews are false. This percentage has quadrupled since 2006 when assistant professor Michael Luca at Harvard estimated that five percent of Yelp's reviews were fake. Aaron Schur, Yelp's senior litigation counsel, believes Operation Clean Turf will encourage law enforcement to crackdown on fake reviews and states that Yelp is “aggressively” screening reviews for false advertising. Yelp's rules do not allow fake reviews, and a Yelp spokesperson stated to BGR that the website uses software to screen fake reviews and only posts 75% of the reviews it receives. Meanwhile, Operation Clean Turf found companies using dishonest tactics, such as using multiple computers to write fake reviews, giving customers gift cards for fake reviews and writing fake reviews to improve business instead of fixing problems with customer service.

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