Jail time for review fraudsters


BANGKOK, 13 September 2018: TripAdvisor has praised a pivotal legal ruling in Italy that saw a persistent online review fraudster sentenced to jail.

In one of the first legal cases of its kind, the Criminal Court of Lecce ruled that writing fake reviews and using a false identity is criminal conduct under Italian criminal law.

The owner of PromoSalento, which sold fake review packages to hospitality businesses in Italy, was sentenced to nine months in prison and ordered to pay approximately 8,000 Euros in costs and damages.

Paid review fraud – when companies or individuals ‘sell’ fake reviews to business owners – is a violation of the law in many jurisdictions, but this is one of the first cases of enforcement resulting in a criminal conviction.

The practice appears to be prevalent in Asia where companies or individual openly claim that for a fee they can post reviews on popular sites such as TripAdvisor. Hotels often measure their success by the volume of positive reviews they receive comparative to their competitive set.

TripAdvisor supported the prosecution of PromoSalento as a civil claimant by sharing evidence from its extensive in-house fraud investigations and providing support from its Italian legal counsel.

Review fraud is something TripAdvisor said it takes “extremely seriously, employing advanced tracking technology and a dedicated team of investigators to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on the site.”

TripAdvisor welcomes the opportunity to work with enforcement authorities, including the UK Competition and Markets Authority and the US Federal Trade Commission, to share information and support their efforts to tackle online fake reviews.

TripAdvisor associate general counsel VP, Brad Young said: “We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet. Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result.”

“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. 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.”

“Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules,” said UNWTO World Committee on Tourism Ethics chairman, Pascal Lamy.

“Fake reviews clearly contravene the World Committee on Tourism Ethics guidelines, which we published last year to guide the responsible use of ratings and reviews on digital platforms. The recommendations were developed in collaboration with TripAdvisor, Minube and Yelp and we know that industry collaboration has an important role to play in tackling review fraud.”

The global travel community is a vital partner in the fight against paid review fraud and evidence shared by business owners approached by paid review companies is particularly valuable.

Anyone approached or contacted by companies or individuals offering fake reviews should not engage with them, but share that information with TripAdvisor directly at paidreviews@tripadvisor.com.

All reports made to TripAdvisor’s content integrity are investigated and any information, no matter how minor, can help, the company stated.

But it takes two to tango and for every fake reviewer there are hospitality executives prepared to pay and be complicit in criminal activity. More should be done to make organisations that pay for fraudulent reviews accountable under the law.