Fake reviewers snared in NY Attorney General yogurt sting

Eric Shchneiderman lead the year long sting operation that busted companies that pay people to write fake reviews. Credit: Getty Images
Eric Shchneiderman lead the yearlong sting operation that busted companies paying people to write fake reviews. Credit: Getty Images

Nineteen companies caught writing fake reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch have been snared in a yearlong sting operation by the New York Attorney General and ordered to pay $350,000 in penalties.

The Attorney General’s Office set up a fake yogurt shop in Brooklyn, New York, and sought help from firms that specialize in boosting online search results to combat negative reviews.

Some search optimization companies offered to post fake reviews of the yogurt shop on restaurant review sites such as Yelp, Google Local and Citysearch, the Attorney General’s office said in a statement on Monday.

The companies created online profiles and paid as little as $1 per review to freelance writers, some of whom were in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe, the Attorney General’s Office said.

Other businesses, including family-owned bus company US Coachways Inc, a laser hair removal firm and an adult entertainment club were caught when managers, staff or friends wrote bogus reviews.

US Coachways officials were not immediately available for comment.

Yelp welcomed the crackdown, saying it was critical that the company protect the integrity of its content. It said it would continue to work with law enforcement agencies as well as taking steps itself to combat fraud.

While Yelp’s shares fell as much as 9 percent, analysts played down any link with Operation Clean Turf, as the Attorney General’s Office dubbed the sting.

“In the long term it’s great because, I mean, there should be greater confidence in the consumers that the reviews are not being manipulated,” said Mike Hickey from Benchmark Co, a brokerage.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said the fake reviews breached laws against false advertising and deceptive business practices.

“Consumers rely on reviews from their peers to make daily purchasing decisions on anything from food and clothing to recreation and sightseeing,” Schneiderman said.

“This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution.”

Companies providing fake positive reviews used Internet address spoofing techniques to hide their identities and set up hundreds of bogus online profiles to try to get around review website controls, the Attorney General’s Office said.

It also found that some New York City businesses, such as a spa and a nightclub, solicited people to write fake reviews through classified advertising websites such as Craigslist.com, Freelancer.com and oDesk.com.

A search optimization firm named by the Attorney General’s office, XVI Inc, was not immediately available for comment. The telephone line listed on the website for Zamdel Inc, trading as eBoxed, was disconnected.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.