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Businesses across the globe have been hiring advertisers to create fake reviews and critiques of their services in an effort to boost their ratings and bring in revenue. And it's not just restaurants that are affected – reputation-enhancement companies trick customers of doctors, dentists, lawyers and more. Now, New York is cracking down on the falsehoods, forcing 19 companies to stop creating the views and pay a total of $350,000 in fines.
The New York Times reports that businesses involved include a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal company and an adult entertainment club, as well as the companies that post the false reviews on sites such as Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo.
“What we’ve found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising,” said Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general. “When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”
Investigations found that reviews even come from Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe, when the reviewers had never even been near the company they were writing about. Some reputation-enhancement firms even bribed their client's customers to engage in the false reviews and wrote fake reviews addressing their criticisms on fake reviews, according to PRNewser.
Although the investigations mainly involved businesses in New York, this is quickly becoming an issue across the globe. According to a 2012 Gartner study, soon one in seven recommendations or ratings on social media networks will be fake.
“This shows that fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement,” said Aaron Schur, senior litigation counsel for Yelp.
But targeting these firms won't be an easy task. Schneiderman said, “Sadly, it will take continued policing, both by law enforcement and the review sites themselves, to make sure some businesses stop lying to customers they claim to serve.”