Is the age of the fake online review drawing to a close? Several SEO companies were hit with some big fines as part of their settlement with the New York Attorney General’s Office for their role in peppering the Web with fake reviews.
The 19 companies targeted in the investigation were using offshore freelancers to write reviews on sites like Yelp! Google Local and CitySearch. While web marketers refer to that as, “business as usual,” it’s called, “false advertising,” by law enforcement.
The NYAG’s investigation employed an undercover officer who posed as a yogurt shop owner who was looking for SEO services. No CAP reader will be surprised to find out that he was quickly offered a suite of services that was tilted heavily towards the black hat side.
In a statement posted online (which describes the operation in great detail and is well worth reading) Attorney General A.G. Schneiderman said:
This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution. And companies that continue to engage in these practices should take note: ‘Astroturfing’ is the 21st century’s version of false advertising, and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it.
Black hat types should definitely heed Schneiderman’s warning. The NYAG Office is frequently on the leading edge when it comes to prosecuting new types of fraud and other AG’s invariably follow their lead.