How a Fake Yogurt Shop Took Down Fake Reviewers
19 companies agree to stop deceptive practices in New York
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2013 2:55 PM CDT
Updated Sep 28, 2013 12:19 PM CDT
This image shows a Yelp web site on a computer screen in Los Angeles Thursday March 18, 2010.   (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

(Newser) – Fake reviews are a known problem online—but New York has managed to crack down on them using an equally fake yogurt shop. After a yearlong investigation, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week announced that the state has reached settlements with 19 companies; they'll stop with the bogus reviews and pay $350,000 in fines. Those companies fall into two buckets: businesses that are unhappy with their review ratings on sites like Yelp, and businesses that help those companies by delivering fake reviews (a process Bloomberg notes is called "astroturfing").

The fake reviews were sometimes written by foreigners for as little as a dollar a pop; other times actual customers were bribed with gift certificates to pen them. In the case of the New York sting ("Operation Clean Turf"), Schneiderman's investigators got things going by pretending to be the owner of a Brooklyn yogurt shop in need of some review fluffing; they contacted SEO shops looking for help. That led them to the 19 companies. The New York Times reports that dentists, lawyers, and an ultrasound clinic were among the businesses buying fake reviews. "When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement—but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions," says Schneiderman. Though the investigation only uncovered problems in New York, "This shows that fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement," says Yelp's senior litigation counsel.

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Showing 3 of 47 comments
wei2szu
Sep 30, 2013 9:18 AM CDT
"After a yearlong investigation, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week announced," GET THIS...it took them a year to find 19 Purple One Eyed Yogurt slingers. Yelp that into your Twitter and FB. Bloomberg calls it "astroturfing", I call it "yogurt slinging" "This shows that fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement," says Yelp's senior litigation counsel. Uh, what? If this is legitimate, then you sir, Mr. Yelp litigation, need to fork over that $350,000, you lying SOB. You allowed the malicious lying about a some assholes yogurt shop. That's where it starts, Yelp starts with yogurt, next the White House. So, what are we going to do about all the lies Obama told us during his 'campaign' to rule the world?
Holly Williams
Sep 30, 2013 5:50 AM CDT
I wonder if there is anything that can be done to help consumers know whether or not a review is fake? Perhaps consumers need to be more educated on how to spot fake reviews? Or maybe individual online merchants could do something about it?
squiggysmom1
Sep 29, 2013 9:56 AM CDT
I have always been suspicious of the gushy reviews on Yelp. When I read a restaurant review that describes several things on the menu, extolls the parking lot, and praises the staff by name, I disregard it. I feel the same when a reviewer writes a scathing review that seems over the top and personal. I think the crackdown is a good thing, because it has gotten to the point where review websites can't be trusted.