Fake Reviews – Business Fights Trolls with Third Party Verification

Today many people rely on online reviews for advice on restaurants, banks, doctors, contractors, real estate agents, and other local businesses under the assumption the reviews are posted by thoughtful customers and that each one carries the same weight.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

New studies show up to 30% of reviews in certain categories are fake. If that isn’t scary enough, many of the top sites have review filters which are easy to bypass. Simply checking IP addresses doesn’t begin to solve the growing problem of review hacking. Bad reviews often end up “magically” appearing prominently on review sites unless the business pays up and becomes a customer. According to Daniel Johnson of TruWeb Verified, “All we are missing is a godfather and we would have a crime family.”
TruWeb Verified was created to work with business owners to verify online reviews and bring credibility back to the online space. And the need couldn’t be greater.

Today a business and livelihood can be hijacked by a competitor or disgruntled, anonymous person. And so-called objective review sites are not on the side of the business. If a company doesn’t take the initiative to put their customer reviews or story “out there” first, the very real risk is that someone else will.

Most businesses deliver a steady stream of positive customer experiences and they have testimonials to show it. But an industry has sprung up to give a voice to an angry public with sites like Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer offering a forum for discontent.

No one is more dialed into the online reputation space than TruWeb Verified, and they believe an independent third party authentication process for reviews will be a win for businesses and consumers. TruWeb Verified reviews have been certified as coming from an actual customer with personal experience of the product or service referenced in the review.  TruWeb Verified is fast becoming the gold standard of independent online review companies.

According to Daniel Johnson of TruWeb Verified: “Businesses need to contact us and let us know which reviews are legitimate. We verify those reviews and make sure that only real customers are participating in the business storyline.”

The stakes are high. Congress passed legislation granting statutory immunity to online service providers such as Yelp for the content of third-party posts. While being a positive for review sites, it is now “open season” on business owners because over 80% of consumers go to the web before buying a product or service.

And businesses are fighting back.

In 2011, two Arizona surgeons won $12 million in a lawsuit against a patient who created a website accusing them of botching her plastic surgery. In November, a Texas woman claimed a retailer not only fined her for a negative review she posted, but retaliated by reporting her debt to credit bureaus afterward.

In another case, a Washington D.C. contractor, Christopher Dietz, sought  $750,000 in damages against an online reviewer who, he claimed, cost him $300,000 in lost business. The customer claimed Deitz botched a home renovation project and charged her for unnecessary services. Deitz denied the allegations.

The reviewer had posted a scathing one star review on Yelp and Angie’s List, both widely-used consumer review websites that draw tens of millions of viewers each month. Not only did the reviewer charge that work was done poorly, but that jewelry had gone missing from her home.

Sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Angie’s List often refuse to remove negative reviews without a court injunction, many businesses resort to responding to reviewers personally through the sites. But Deitz and others are going directly to court.

According to Johnson, “TruWeb Verified stands with a business to help protect them not from legitimate feedback, but from the anonymous flow of low quality comment spam. TruWeb Verified is an easier, cheaper, friendlier way to protect a business from the damage of bad reviews by working with a partner and getting ahead of the storyline.
“It time to stop wasting businesses’ limited time and hard earned money in the already overcrowded court system. The solution is a simple one. All online reviews should be verified as coming from a real person with real experience of the product or service they are posting about. A verified review-pro or con-can be dealt with. Business owners don’t mind addressing customers’ addressing concerns or grievances. Misunderstandings happen. That’s life. But the “whack a mole” game of knocking down fake reviews and swatting at online trolls is a lose lose proposition.”
In a major win for business owners in the US, a Virginia appeals court ruled that Yelp had to reveal the identities of seven users who wrote negative reviews of a local carpet cleaning business.

In that case, the customers weren’t actually patrons of the shop, business owner claimed, which made their reviews false statements rather than opinions protected by the First Amendment.

TruWeb Verified is turning up the heat and not waiting for courts or congress to act. They are offering what they call a “Review Rescue” to businesses who have suffered an unfair, inaccurate or fake review. According to Johnson, “We have an immediate goal of creating momentum and getting the message out. Six months from now we will worry about price points. Today we are looking for businesses that want to start operating in a new online paradigm where they only work with verified reviews and where they partner with TruWeb Verified to be part of a web revolution. We will do whatever is necessary to get them in and up their online game but we work with any business that feels they are not getting fairly reviewed online. We will make it available to anyone who needs it.”

BW-Media Services Tacoma 9/3/14