New York’s Attorney General has started to get aggressive and go after businesses that put up fake reviews on sites such as Yelp. Calling it a consumer affairs matter, he has reached a settlement with a group of New York businesses that he was able to prove either put their own fake reviews online, or paid third party vendors for the false positive reviews. While he is the only government official taking a stand on this issue right now, he is not the only one fighting fake reviews. Yelp is suing a small law firm for allegedly posting fake reviews itself.
Fake reviews, known as “astroturfing,” are becoming more and more of a problem. The fake reviews hurt consumers who might choose a business based upon Yelp or another review site. However, beyond those victims, the reviews also hurt other businesses who might lose out on customers to the fake reviews. The reviews can also have the effect of hurting potential buyers of the business – looking at reviews of a potential purchase can tell you how popular the store/restaurant is with consumers and whether you can continue to market the brand, or if you would need to completely remarket the enterprise.
Even with these developments, “reputation management” companies will continue to solicit business, and for a small fee, will still flood review sites with positive reviews of your business. However, the New York AG’s office seems intent on continuing his policing efforts. It is also possible that this effort could spread to other states – the national response that this move gets will be telling. Beyond it being a potentially bad business practice, astroturfing may now have real legal consequences. As such, we recommend staying away from the practice.