NBC 15 Investigates real problem of fake reviews for local businesses
Mobile, AL (WPMI) —
Rave reviews can boost any business but not all of those customer comments on social media are from actual customers.
Hundreds of phony posts have infiltrated review sites and as a buyer you need to beware.
NBC 15’s Nicole Fierro uncovers the real problem of fake reviews in our area.
A five-star review - or a fraud?
Experts say businesses are paying for fake reviews from what looks like an average Joe, targeting you on your favorite social media sites to get your hard-earned cash.
“There's no site that you can trust because they are all able to be gamed,” internet consultant Jason Brown said.
Brown is fighting for consumer safety on the web. He's outed thousands of businesses with fake reviews, exposing them on his website Reviewfraud.org.
On Brown's list of shame, we found two local businesses with suspicious reviews: Coastal Pet Resort in Foley and South Alabama Auto Sales in Mobile.
NBC 15 News went to the businesses for answers.
Pat Quinnelly with South Alabama Auto Sales says he had no idea his company was flagged for a fake review from the account “The Girl You Used to Know.”
“A who,” Quinnelly asked, adding, “what is that?”
Review fraud caught the post on South Alabama Auto Sales’ Google page because it came from the same profile that's slinging out five stars to more than 100 auto dealerships across the country.
“I don't know what to do about it,” Quinnelly said. “How do you undo a fake review?
Businesses can try to remove a fake review on their page by simply flagging the post on Yelp or Google.
There's an icon you can click, alerting the social media site to investigate and take action if it's fake.
Reviewfraud.org also flagged Coastal Pet Resort in Foley because they have a list of reviews posted by the generic google accounts.
Upon clicking on one of these posts, it shows the same account saying their pet looked beautiful has also posted 54 other reviews across the country.
“It's not like we're gaming the system,” Coastal Pet Resort Owner Ron Hayles said.
Hayles says the reviews are real testimonials from his customers, handwritten ones he paid a company to type online.
“They encourage us accumulate reviews and then send them to them,” Hayles said. “They are supposed to post them verbatim the way we send them to them.”
NBC 15 News asked Hayles for proof, and he pulled out a folder of reviews. We were able to spot two of the exact, word for word reviews, flagged by Reviewfraud.org.
“What they are doing is against the terms of service, also the FTC would consider that to be fraud as well,” Brown said.
While the testimonials are real, Brown says many search engines don't allow companies to post on behalf of customers because they could change the wording.
“I'm just shocked that this is an issue,” Hayles said.
Hayles says he never wanted to deceive anyone and will end his deal with the company that posts for him.
While it can be tough to spot a fake review, review fraud says your best protection is being an informed consumer. Look at reviews on multiple social media sites instead of just one.
“I say check the negative reviews because that's going to give you a better sense to see what you may actually deal with,” Brown said.
Negative or positive, it's best to examine the language used and the poster's profile.
“Great work? We don't do work. We sell cars, really,” Quinnelly said.
Quinnelly quickly caught the red flags with his fake reviewer called “The Girl You Used to Know.”
“Look at her picture there. She's wearing a bikini,” he said. “Would you trust ‘The Girl That You Used to Know?’”
Brown says there is a chance you are looking at a post from a fake reviewer if an account is reviewing the same businesses over and over again. Also, if it's reviewing businesses across the country,