Officials are cracking down on what appears to be a common practice online these days. After posting fake positive reviews to protect the reputation of clients, search engine optimization companies in New York now face more than $350,000 in fines.
The New York State Attorney General’s office investigators put together a sting operation to target SEO companies offering "reputation management" services. By posing as a yogurt shop in Brooklyn wanting to overcome negative consumer reviews, the investigators got inside information on how reputation management services work. In some of the SEO firm proposals, the investigators found promises to write positive false reviews on review websites such as Google Local, Yelp, and Citysearch.
Upon closer look, investigators found that the SEO firms hired freelance writers in the Phillippines, Bangladesh, Eastern Europe and other parts of the world and paid them $1 to $10 for posting a fake review. They even went as far as to post each review from a different IP address to prevent review sites as flagging the review as false.
The sting, named “Operation Clean Turf” caught 19 firms in the act of false advertising and deceptive business practices. The outcome for these firms was costly. Collectively, the 19 firms agreed to pay over $350,000 in fines and stop engaging in unethical business practices for their clients.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time phony reviews have hit the web. In 2009, Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic surgery company, inundated review websites with fake positive reviews. As a result, they were forced to a $300,000 settlement.
Fake reviews are damaging and highly misleading. Consumers rely on reviews to find the right business to serve their needs. When fake positive reviews are posted online, consumers cannot find the high-performing companies they’re looking for. In addition, the companies that act ethically in their Internet marketing practices get hurt because they cannot overcome the floods of fake reviews hitting the web so frequently.
Have you ever paid for fake reviews? There’s a better way to market your business and build your online reputation. At Foster Web Marketing, we use white-hat SEO techniques to help industry professionals across the country make a positive impact online without unethical business practices.