Positive reviews online? They may be fake

Online reviews are extremely important for businesses because good reviews can help you win customers, while poor reviews can scare them away.

Although companies are very grateful to get positive reviews from customers, there is evidence that fake online reviews can be bought and a lawyer says this is a huge problem and why consumers shouldn’t always believe the reviews they see online.

“I think most people don’t realize how widespread the problem of fake reviews online is,” said Kay Dean, 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 fake reviews while seeking medical treatment.

Dean said if you’re looking for a massage, a pedicure or a dog walker, many companies use fake reviews online.

“From doctors to dentists to entrepreneurs to piano teachers to wedding DJs, you name it — it’s happening,” Dean said.

Dean said she was researching fake reviews recently when she came across Silverhill Dental Clinic in Etobicoke.

“Silverhill Dental appeared on my radar because they had received 180 five-star Google reviews in two days and that was immediately suspicious,” Dean said.

Dean said the dental practice also posted 195 Facebook recommendations over 3 days. From her research, she recognized names, photos, and reviews that were also used to give fake five-star reviews to other businesses in various parts of the United States.

“24 of those 30 Toronto dental patients also used the same cleaners in Florida, 18 used the same locksmith in Texas, and 15 used the same locksmith in Maryland,” Dean said.

Dean said some of the names came with stock photos on the internet and many of the positive comments were used over and over again on various websites.

When CTV News contacted Silverhill Dental Clinic, the company said it had no comment, but the next day its Facebook page was taken down and hundreds of reviews and recommendations were removed.

In a statement to CTV News, Google Canada said “we conducted our review and found abuse.”

“Our team conducted an initial review and took action on fraudulent reviews, including removing content that violates the policy and suspending associated user accounts,” a spokesperson added. “Our policies make it clear that reviews should be based on real experiences and information, we closely monitor 24/7 fraudulent content and we continue to invest in keeping information on Maps authentic and reliable.”

A spokesperson for Meta/Facebook said they “disabled multiple accounts for sharing fake reviews and removed reviews they posted.”

“Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not permitted on our platforms, including offering or exchanging fake reviews,” they said. “We have dedicated significant time and resources to resolving this issue, and our safety and security teams are constantly working to help prevent these practices.”

Dean thinks some companies benefit from positive reviews and gain an unfair competitive advantage.

“This is a bogus review network operating openly on Facebook and, in my opinion, operating overseas,” Dean said.

Dean thinks 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 to completely dismiss reviews as a reliable source because too many of them are fake,” Dean said.

There are also concerns that businesses could be hit with fake negative reviews and then charged to have them removed.

Dean says Google and Facebook make billions of dollars in advertising and need to do more to protect consumers from deception.

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