Yelp Goes Undercover to Catch Solicited Reviews

Local business review site Yelp plans to post a “consumer alert” warning on the profiles of eight businesses that have been caught soliciting positive reviews from power users, The New York Times reports.

To catch the businesses, Yelp staffers posed as “elite” reviewers and responded to ads for writers on Craigslist. (Elite reviewers are community members whom Yelp awards special standing within the community for their authenticity and flair.)

Bert Levi Family Jewelers was caught offering $200 for a review of a custom-made ring. Business owner Bert Levi explained to the Times, “We have noticed that some of our larger, corporate run competitors have been unfairly trying to get reviews written for them on Yelp, which puts us at a disadvantage.”

The jeweler’s business listing now bears the following warning: “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business. We weren’t fooled, but wanted you to know because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules. Check out the evidence here.” Clicking on the button, users are taken to the questionable reviews, where they can read what was posted and decide for themselves whether to give the business a second chance.

Yelp is not the only consumer review site to fall victim to scams like this. Authors have also been known to seek positive reviews for their books on the online marketplace Amazon.com. This ad on craigslist  brazenly reads, “Hello, I’m an author with a new book on Amazon. I will pay you five dollars to write me a positive five-star review. It doesn’t have to be very long — just a couple of lines will do. There is no need to buy the book. Of course you have to have an Amazon account. I can pay you by check, credit card, cash or PayPal.”

Considering how harsh these amateur reviewers can be, it’s no surprise that some businesses have felt the pressure to balance out the negative reviews (which might have even come from competitors) with a few that are glowing. But without honest reviews from real customers, sites like Yelp can’t survive.

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