Yelp is a service that as of 2017 has 141 million monthly unique visitors. Millions of people rely on Yelp to understand the value of the products and services they are considering buying. To that end, it is important to discuss an insidious phenomenon on Yelp – fake reviews. Fake reviews are all too common on Yelp. There are even guides on how to create fake reviews.
According to one study from Harvard Business School, as of 2013 a full 20% of reviews on Yelp are fake, up for an estimated 5% in 2006.
The Attorney General of New York had to prosecute 19 companies in 2013 for publishing fraudulent online reviews, a process called “astroturfing.” To catch these companies posting fake reviews, the NY Attorney General’s Office set up a sting operation called “Operation Clean Turf.” An undercover staffer from the Attorney General’s office posed as the owner of a yogurt shop and answered ads posted on Craigslist.com, Freelancer.com, oDesk.com from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) companies offering to write reviews.
The 19 companies agreed to pay combined fines of more than $350,000 signed agreements to stop.
Unforunately, this one bust has not proved to be a strong deterrant for companies to stop posting fake reviews online.
A NBC Los Angeles investigation found hundreds of apparently fraudulent reviews for Southern California businesses in 2017, with experts warning the news team that there could be millions more fake reviews. The apparently fraudulent reviews were found on Yelp, Google, and Facebook, with phony praise of services provided by restaurants, dentists, doctors and more.
Recently, many articles have been written about apparent scams by Fuel Online, and its CEO Scott Levy. A look at their Yelp account seems to prove the idea that businesses with a bad reputation can be found with fake reviews online.
A five star rating from “Bugle Food Prep and Delivery” is given on Yelp to Fuel Online. However, Bugle Food Prep and Delivery can not be found anywhere on Google besides in reference to the Yelp review of Fuel Online.
This is especially strange because Fuel Online is an SEO marketing company that purports to do exactly that – help businesses make a greater online impact.
Is Fuel Online an example of the fake reviews plaguing sites like Yelp.
It’s hard to know for certain, but this incident shows one disturbing trend.
Where’s there’s smoke about a fake company, there may not be fire – but there’s probably fake reviews on Yelp.