It’s well accepted that posting false reviews is a bad idea. But what happens when an unscrupulous reviewer gets caught? Here, Steven Wyer shares the story of a Boston jewelry store where one of its employees tried to scare customers away from the competition.
Q: Why do customers post fake reviews?
Steven Wyer: Fake, or false, reviews are often posted by businesses hoping to boost their search rankings. They are usually positive and make the business look better to the search engines as well as customers.
Q: What about fake negative reviews?
Steven Wyer: These are often the result of a competing business or a scorned ex-employee. Sometimes, they are more personal.
Q: Can you give us an example of a business trying to sabotage another using reviews?
Steven Wyer: Back in 2013, there was a very high profile case of a review posted by Adam Jacobs. His father owns Boston-based Toodie’s Fine Jeweler. Jacobs posted a lengthy review against another local jewelry store, Stephen Leigh Jewelers, ostensibly in an effort to scare potential customers straight into his father’s shop.
Q: Is that legal?
Steven Wyer: No, not at all. Posting reviews with no merit against competing business is fraudulent and libelous.
Q: How did Jacobs get caught?
Steven Wyer: When the owner of Stephen Leigh Jewelers started tracing reviews from that user’s account, he managed to link it back to Jacobs, who works at his father’s store.
Q: Did the two know each other?
Steven Wyer: Stephen Blumberg, founder of Stephen Leigh Jewelers, stated in his lawsuit that he had never met Jacobs and that he was unaware of any bad blood between the two local jewelry shops.
Q: What information did the fake review convey?
Steven Wyer: In the writeup, Jacobs stated that Stephen Leigh Jewelers was “the biggest thief on the South Shore” and cautioned shoppers to go elsewhere.
Q: Was Toodie’s charged with anything?
Steven Wyer: No, the jury vindicated the store, which had originally been named in a 2013 complaint. It appears as though Jacobs acted alone.
Q: What was Jacobs’s punishment?
Steven Wyer: He has been ordered to pay Bloomberg a sum of $34,500 for emotional distress. The review was live online for several months, costing the business an unknown sum of money and greatly upsetting the small business owner.
Q: Are fake reviews a widespread problem across the different review sites?
Steven Wyer: Historically, yes. Thankfully, Yelp, Tripadvisor, the Better Business Bureau and other sites are taking steps to rectify the issue of fake reviews.
Q: Why is it so important to ensure that reviews are legitimate?
Steven Wyer: There are many reasons but it largely falls back to consumer trust and legal issues surrounding blatant lies that can damage a company’s reputation.