Fake Yelp Reviewers Just Got Totally Busted

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As tried-and-true Seamless junkies, we'll admit that we tend to skip over any restaurant option that has just a one- or two-star rating. In fact, the only thing worse is a place that hasn't been reviewed at all. Not only do we place lots of our stock in the online reviews from complete strangers, we sort of glorify them: Yelpers, for example, earn badges and receive exclusive invites to foodie events. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a large amount of fake reviews, in which restaurant owners either pay reviewers for positive feedback about their restaurant or service, or even create false reviews themselves. Following a year-long investigation, New York regulators have introduced a penalty system for companies who create false, and therefore misleading reviews of their own businesses, resulting in a total of $350,000 in fines.

New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman explains, "What we've found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising. When you look at a billboard, you can tell it's a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you're reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving." Indeed, the investigation revealed false reviews were coming from anywhere as far as Bangladesh. And as the New York Times points out, a false review of a restaurant may result in a bad meal, but a false review of a dentist or law practice could have more serious results.

Of course, sites that house reviews, like Yelp or Citysearch, have taken measures against fake postings — Yelp even sued a California law office that wrote fake reviews of itself. Other sites will also let you know when a reviewer has last ordered from the establishment, or even when they last checked in on Four Square. As the investigation spreads wider (it currently focuses only on New York), it's hopeful that the false reviews will mostly disappear. Besides, if you're really in the market for the best dining experience in New York, you know we've got that covered. (New York Times)

embedPhoto: Via New York Times.