Online reviews are extremely important for businesses as good ones can help you gain customers while poor reviews can drive them away.
While companies are very grateful to get positive reviews from customers, there is evidence fake online reviews can be bought and an advocate says it’s a massive problem and why consumers shouldn’t always believe reviews they see online.
“I think most people don’t realize how prevalent the problem is with fake online reviews” said Kay Dean, the founder of Fake Review Watch.
Dean is a former United States Federal criminal investigator from San Jose, California who founded Fake Review Watch after having her own negative issues with false reviews when she was seeking medical treatment.
Dean said whether you’re seeking a massage, a pedicure or a dog walker many businesses use fake reviews online.
“From doctors to dentists to contractors to piano teachers to wedding DJs, you name it – it’s happening” said Dean.
Dean said she was recently doing research on fake reviews when she came across the Silverhill Dental Clinic in Etobicoke.
“Silverhill Dental popped up on my radar because they had received 180 five star Google reviews within a two day period and that was immediately suspicious” said Dean.
Dean said the dental office also had 195 Facebook recommendations posted over 3 days. From her research she recognized names, photos and comments that have also been used to give fake five star reviews to other businesses in various parts of the United States.
“24 of these 30 Toronto dental patients also used the same cleaners in Florida, 18 used the same Texas locksmith and 15 use the same Maryland locksmith” said Dean.
Dean said that some of the names were accompanied by stock photos from the internet and that many of the positive comments were used over and over again on various websites.
When CTV News reached out to Silverhill Dental Clinic the business said it had no comment, but the next day it’s Facebook page was taken down and hundreds of reviews and recommendations were removed.
In a statement to CTV News, Google Canada said “we’ve conducted our review and have found abuse.”
“Our team has conducted an initial review and has taken action on the fraudulent reviews, including removing policy-violating content and suspending associated user accounts,” a spokesperson added. “Our policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences and information, we closely monitor 24/7 for fraudulent content and we continue to invest in ways to keep the information on Maps authentic and reliable.”
A spokesperson for Meta/Facebook said they’ve “disabled several accounts for sharing fake reviews and removed the reviews they’ve posted.”
“Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews,” they said. “We have dedicated extensive time and resources to tackling this issue, and our safety and security teams are continuously working to help prevent these practices.”
Dean believes some companies are benefiting from positive reviews and are getting an unfair competitive advantage.
“This is a fake review ring operating openly on Facebook and in my opinion it’s operating offshore” said Dean.
Dean feels tech companies aren’t doing enough to police online reviews which is unfair and leaves consumers in the dark.
“There are no consequences and cheating is rewarded in this environment and my advice to consumers is too dismiss reviews altogether as a reliable source as too many of them are fakes” said Dean.
There are also concerns businesses can be hit with fake negative reviews and then charged money to have them removed.
Dean says both Google and Facebook make billions of dollars on advertising and need to do more to protect consumers from being duped.