If a hotel, restaurant, cruise ship or product review sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Meaning – not true. New York State has just settled fraud cases with 19 companies accused of soliciting or publishing fake reviews.
Great reviews boost the bottom line –
Great reviews on sites including Yelp, Travelocity. Citysearch, Zagats and Goggle Local, help boost the bottom line for the business getting the great review. A recent Harvard Business School study found that increasing a restaurant’s review score by one star on Yelp could improve business up to 8%, and researchers at Cornell found that one extra star on Travelocity or TripAdvisor could translate into an 11% increase in a room rate.
New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found many reviews were written by people in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe who never experienced the product or service they reviewed. The fake reviewers made things up for $1 to $10 per review, paid by whichever company hired them to write the fake, phony glowing reports. And that doesn’t even count the fake, phony bad reviews posted by somebody to take business away from his or her closest competitor.
According to Crain’s New York Business, via the Associated Press, one undercover agent was able to hire a company to create a false, but glowing impression of a fictitious company. Other agents posed as owners of a Brooklyn yogurt shop and called a company that offered to write fake reviews and post them on websites including Yelp, Google Local and Citysearch. Investigators said such companies can set up hundreds of false online profiles of reviewers and have the software to hide their origin.
Who do you trust? –
It’s a real problem, since online reviews are usually posted anonymously, or with a made-up sign-up name that hides the reviewers real identity. And it’s at the same time as more of us trust these commentaries. Earlier this year, the well-trusted Nielsen consumer survey company found that 70% of us worlwide trust online reviews, which is a 15% increase in just four years. The Neilsen people also found that online reviews were the second most trusted form of advertising after word-of-mouth by family and friends.
It’s not the first time phony reviews have been discovered, and it won’t be the last.
Forbes magazine reported recently about a non-existent, fake restaurant in England that got glowing reviews. TripAdvisor has blacklisted dozens of businesses for phony reviews.
How to avoid phony reviews, ratings –
So what’s a traveler to do? Anonymous sources are a good place to start, but then double check with sources who identify their writers and reviewers, such as my fellow travel writers, editors and bloggers Peter Greenberg, JohnnyJet, Everett Potter, and longtime trusted sources including Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Frommer’s and other book and website publishers.
Great Britain’s trusted Daily Mail newspaper recently published an article on how to spot phony reviews
Full disclosure: I write for TripAdvisor and it’s member site SmarterTravel, and for Fodor’s guidebooks and website. You can find my name – and sometimes my bio – on the article, or in the back of the book.