Italian Man Jailed for Selling Fake TripAdvisor Reviews
Fake reviews on TripAdvisor aren't a new phenomenon, but this may be the first time anyone faced real consequences after posting one.
An Italian court sentenced a man to nine months in prison and fined him €8,000 on Tuesday after he was found guilty of fraud for writing fake reviews of hotels and other business that were posted to TripAdvisor.
The man was the owner of a company called PromoSalento, which sold packages of fake reviews to businesses in order to boost their ratings on websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp.
“Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result,” said Brad Young, vice president, associate general counsel at TripAdvisor.
Apparently, TripAdvisor caught wind of the scam in 2015 and "blocked or removed" more than 1,000 fake reviews posted by PromoSalento.
“TripAdvisor formally joined the prosecution as a civil claimant, sharing evidence from our own investigations and providing support from our Italian legal counsel,” TripAdvisor said in a statement.
The company has its own special unit to combat fake reviews that uses technology to flag what it thinks may be a fake post.
“We invest a lot in fraud prevention and we’re successful at tackling it: Since 2015, we’ve put a stop to the activity of more than 60 different paid-review companies worldwide," said Young. "However, we can only do so much alone, which is why we’re eager to collaborate with regulators and law enforcement authorities to support their prosecutions.”
Fake reviews have real consequences since so many consumers base decisions on them with the thought that they are real and honest.
“Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules," Pascal Lamy, the chairman of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, told The Guardian.
TripAdvisor been associated with scandals regarding its reviews before. Last year it caught heat after it was revealed it deleted multiple reviews that warned of rape at a Mexican hotel.
The company says it's in talks with other regulatory bodies like the US Federal Trade Commission and the UK Competition and Markets Authority to work on ways to combat fake reviews. TripAdvisor encourages anyone with knowledge of people running fake review scams to email with information at email@example.com.