Review fraud flourishes as online reputation grows more relevant
As unsuspecting consumers, many of us have experienced it the hotel with a four-star review that delivers a single-star stay, or the sushi restaurant which garners rave reviews while giving back salmonella - no matter how you snip or slice it, fraudulent online reviews not only result in wasted time and money, but may leave those affected with psychological scars that make routine buying or hiring a burden. The financial and emotional effect may be felt most deeply by homeowners who have fallen prey to contractors who publish deceptive online reviews.
In September 2013, the New York Times published a story about nineteen New York-based companies who were slapped with fines totaling $350,000 for posting fake reviews designed to deceive consumers and boost profits.
What many Canadian consumers do not realize, is that there is legislation in place designed to penalize Canadian businesses that participate in posting fake reviews. Section 74.02 of the Competition Act strictly prohibits the use of fraudulent testimonials, and companies who are first-time offenders can receive fines of up to $10,000,000 for misleading the public. However, many consumers who have been duped by bogus reviews suffer in silence because they are unaware that the law exists. Max Sheppard of TrustedPros.ca believes that more education is needed to help consumers who have fallen victim to fabricated reviews take action.
"Fake reviews that influence a homeowner's decision to hire a shoddy or inexperienced contractor can have a huge impact on that homeowner and their family, both financially and mentally. The stress of dealing with a botched home improvement can be an enormous weight to endure."
TrustedPros and others sites that serve to inform consumers through the use of online reviews have both automated and manual validation tools in place that identifies and removes most fraudulent reviews. In fact, TrustedPros rejects nearly 30% of all reviews submitted because they are determined to be fabricated. "Honest reviews are essential in helping consumers make the right hiring decision but despite the efforts of sites like TrustedPros to catch fraudulent reviews, there will always be ways to evade the validation process. Only until the consequences of posting fake reviews are better publicized and understood by businesses considering such actions, this problem will continue to grow as more consumers look online to find and hire service professionals." says Max Sheppard.
As a whole, "consumers have become overly-dependent on the information they find online, which often leads to complacency". Regardless of the service required, it is important to research companies or individuals who may be considered for the job. "Be vigilant by fact-checking your information, and be sure to get even the smallest details in writing," says Max Sheppard.
For those who have fallen victim to businesses that participate in posting fake reviews (or are aware of business who publish them), there is the opportunity to act. By filing a complaint with the Canadian Competition Bureau using their online complaint form, you can help to prevent others from falling for fake reviews.Posted by: TrustedPros