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Crackdown on fake online reviews sees 19 companies fined

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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is this morning set to announce a crackdown on fake online reviews, according to a report from the New York Times. Schneiderman has reportedly reached agreements with 19 companies to cease their "misleading" practices and pay fines totaling $350,000. Among the companies are so-called "reputation management" firms, and other companies that knowingly engaged in fake reviewing and commenting, a practice often referred to as "astroturfing."

Investigators posed as the owner of a yogurt store with a shoddy reputation

Today's announcement is the result of a yearlong investigation that included a sting operation in which Schneiderman's investigators posed as the owner of a Brooklyn yogurt store with poor online reviews, asking a reputation management firm to drum up positive support. The investigation uncovered what the NYT calls a "a web of deceit" engaging in astroturfing that stretched to Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe. In addition to recruiting foreign aid in their quest for five stars, reputation managers were also caught bribing clients' customers to write positive reviews with gift certificates.

Although the agreements and fines are unlikely to put a stop to fake reviews even in New York, they show that "fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement," Yelp's senior litigation counsel tells the NYT. It's hoped today's news will set a precedent for other states to launch similar investigations. and at the very least make businesses think twice before hiring a firm to create fake reviews.