If you're a savvy shopper, you've probably figured out by now that many online reviews are bogus. They can be written by businesses posing as consumers who love their products. And companies can underhandedly use them to damage competitors.
Amazon and Yelp, which have millions of reviews, finally got tired of the game, and they filed lawsuits in two states to make at least seven different websites stop selling reivews. Sounds good, right? But why did it take so long? Both companies have known about this issue for some time, and they say they monitor their sites for bum evaluations using software, but when you read the suits you see just how brazen the scammers can be.
From an Amazon complaint filed in King County, Wash., Superior Court:
"While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon's brand."
One of the sites named in Amazon's complaint is called Buy Amazon Reviews, and as the name implies, it writes and sells favorable reviews. Here's a description from that site:
"Are you tired of your products not being seen, tired of competitors leaving bad reviews? The solution is simple. Buy Amazon reviews. You can have unlimited 4 and 5 star reviews this week. Our skilled writers look at your product, look at your competitor’s products and then write state of the art reviews that will be sure to generate sales for you."
Amazon has safeguards in place to catch some fake reviews, but according to the suit, the defendants posted reviews in "a slow drip" designed to thwart Amazon's detection software. Those false reviews cost about $20 each, according to Amazon.
The owner of Buy Amazon Reviews denies Amazon's claims and said in an email to The Seattle Times, “We are not selling fake reviews. However we do provide unbiased and honest reviews on all the products. And this is not illegal at all.”
Yelp, which is often criticized for the number of fake reviews on its site, is hitting back as well. In a lawsuit filed in February in California, Yelp accused the people behind at least three different sites of selling bogus reviews. The suit claims one of these companies, "invented a software that allows you to proactively generate a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews from your customers in a way that makes them stick to the front page of Yelp."
Obviously, the fakery undermines the usefulness of consumer reviews, and the legal action taken by Amazon and Yelp is a step in the right direction. However, when it comes to online reviews, the old saying "buyer beware" has never been more appropriate.