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Cheat Sheet: The dangers of paying for online reviews

Consumers, competitors and federal agencies could take legal action against companies that enlist others to write glowing reviews


Whether you’re looking to book a hotel, choose a restaurant or hire a plumber, a host of online review sites can help you make the decision. But who’s behind the feedback on such sites? Experts say that it’s not always satisfied customers penning paeans to their favorite businesses, but rather companies themselves that are paying for glowing reviews. In our March issue, InsideCounsel examines the trend of paid-for reviews—and the possible risks that the practice could pose for companies.

How often do companies buy fake reviews?

What are the benefits of paying for reviews?

Positive reviews can give a business much-needed credibility and exposure, experts say. And that can translate into financial gains: Sixty-three percent of consumers are more likely to buy something from a site where there are user reviews, according to Jenny Sussin.

What are the risks of this practice?

Falsifying positive reviews can raise a company’s profile, but the risks of the practice are at least as great, experts say. For one thing, a company’s reputation can take a serious hit if consumers learn of such deception.  There can also be legal consequences in the form of lawsuits from customers, competitors or government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Are review sites liable for paid-for reviews posted to them?

What are review sites doing to combat fake reviews?

Although American review sites aren’t legally responsible for the reviews that users and businesses write, some are still fighting back against falsified postings. Yelp, for example, uses a search algorithm to hide reviews that it believes are fake. The site also announced in October 2012 that it will post a consumer alert for 90 days on the page of any business that it finds has paid for positive reviews.

Alanna Byrne

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Ashley Post

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