NEW YORK — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that 19 companies had agreed to cease their practice of writing fake online reviews for businesses and to pay more than $350,000 in penalties. “Operation Clean Turf,” a year-long undercover investigation into the reputation management industry, the manipulation of consumer-review websites, and the practice of astroturfing, found that companies had flooded the Internet with fake consumer reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch. This operation also uncovered that many agencies selling SEO services do not know how to screen potential clients.
Posing as the owner of a yogurt shop in Brooklyn, representatives from Attorney General Schneiderman’s office called the leading SEO companies in New York to request assistance in combating negative reviews on consumer-review websites. During these calls, representatives from some of these companies offered to write fake reviews of the yogurt shop and post them on consumer-review websites such as Yelp.com, Google Local and Citysearch.com, as part of their reputation management services.
“While engaging in the practice of writing fake online reviews is reprehensible,” Attorney General Schneiderman said, “What’s really amazing is how these so-called ‘reputation management experts’ couldn’t easily figure out that the yogurt shop was a fake business.”
The Attorney General’s office has released the following set of recommendations for SEO agencies to follow any time they get a call from a business requesting a fake review program:
- Search Google for the business’ name in quotes. If there are no results, they could be a fake business.
- Search Google for the business’ telephone number in quotes. If there are no results, they could be a fake business.
- Search the website of the Secretary of State for the state where the business is located. If they are not listed in the state’s business database, they could be a fake business.
- Search Google Maps for the business at their given address. If they do not show up, they could be a fake. Do not try the same search on Apple Maps. It’s not a valid test.
“Unfortunately” said a noted reputation management consultant who wished to remain anonymous but had reviewed the recommendations, “These fake businesses don’t sound any different than most real ones.”
11 Response Comments
It’s funny..because it’s true..
Lol. I just wonder who the companies were. Of course this has been going on forever with I’m sure the biggest players like Amazon, Walmart, etc. doing this on their own properties (I guess there lies the offensive difference).
If this were not NY, I would be surprised the AG’s office actually got involved here.
Do you have a source for the set of recommendations?
It’s not that there SEO companies have bad client screening processes, it’s simply highlights just how cowboy SEO companies there are out there that continue to give the industry a bad name.
““While engaging in the practice of writing fake online reviews is reprehensible,” Attorney General Schneiderman said, “What’s really amazing is how these so-called ‘reputation management experts’ couldn’t easily figure out that the yogurt shop was a fake business.””
This is asinine. Why should they give a shit? Who cares if their business is real? All that matters to the reputation management firm is that the check clears.
Its a sad industry, we go up against black hat companies lime this everyday. Some people will do anything for money. They have no morals. But the reality is that there is more good than bad.
lol is right – like Chase said, and I’m not saying this makes it right, but big brands are the worst offenders.
Crazy-some folks will do anything to get a leg up on the marketplace. Including the NY officials…
It’s sad that this is still going on. I would surprise you how many large companies we get that call us and ask us if we do individual product reviews. I am talking about some companies that are getting 1000’s of real buyers per day to their sites. I have been asked by lawyers to write bad reviews about another lawyer lol… I have never done any of those, it’s just funny that these companies think this will help them. In the long run, someone is going to get punished for it and it’s most likely going to be them.
LMAO! That’s down right scary…The SEO company should have at least done a quick google search to find out they didn’t exist!
Sadly this is still going on… I’ve been duped before in the past by so-called “SEO Companies” who practiced writing fake reviews as part of their reputation management services. Finally found a good company though, and I’m definitely sticking with them. They taught me how to encourage real reviews from my current and past clients in a natural, non-spammy way and even gave me a campaign for free that’s working really well! So just wanted to add that not all of them are bad, but you really have to do your homework and if a company suggests writing fake reviews to cover up the bad ones, run the other way!