Write Fake Reviews, Do Real Time

Author: Cristi Kempf       

Have You Heard?

Italian court sends writer of fraudulent TripAdvisor posts to jail.

TripAdvisor has been in the headlines around the world since news broke this month that an Italian court has jailed the owner of a company that offered fake hotel and restaurant reviews for a fee.

“At TripAdvisor, we fight paid review fraud aggressively and are effective at catching it,” the travel review site said in a report about how it helped authorities find and prosecute the owner of PromoSalento.

The owner, whose name was withheld under European Union privacy rules, was sentenced in June to nine months in jail and fined 8,000 euros by a court in Lecce in Italy’s Apulia region. It’s believed to be the first time that someone caught writing fraudulent online reviews has been sentenced to jail.

Fake reviews are a problem for many businesses, especially those in hospitality, retail, and publishing.

This week the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is investigating claims its employees are accepting bribes to give merchants confidential sales data and contact details for people who have written negative reviews on the site.

TripAdvisor said it began its efforts targeting PromoSalento in 2015 after Italian businesses alerted it to the company’s offer to write fake reviews to boost their TripAdvisor profiles. Next, the company said, it:

  • Identified the people offering the fraudulent paid reviews.
  • Determined that PromoSalento had submitted fake reviews to the site. (TripAdvisor said that during its investigation it identified and then blocked or removed more than 1,000 attempts by PromoSalento to submit reviews on hundreds of different properties.)
  • Penalized properties that paid PromoSalento.
  • Sicced its legal team on PromoSalento to try to shut the company down.
  • Pushed for prosecution. (TripAdvisor said Italy’s Postal and Communications police were already aware of PromoSalento and were carrying out a parallel investigation that led to prosecution. TripAdvisor joined that prosecution as a civil claimant.)

“We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet,” TripAdvisor said.

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