SEO company arrested for fake online reviews

When consumers read reviews online about a product or business, like those from Amazon, it is often difficult to determine which reviews are legitimate and whether they should trust any of the opinions they read online. these days.

The situation is not helped by companies and marketers who go out of their way to post hundreds of bogus reviews online in an attempt to unduly influence consumers’ purchasing decisions.

This month, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), an independent non-ministerial government department tasked with investigating alleged violations of consumer law, cracked down on Total SEO & Marketing Ltd, a company the CMA says it caught posting more than 800 fake reviews online between 2014 and 2015.

Total SEO Company Busted For Fake Reviews

During its investigation, the CMA said it discovered that Total SEO, a search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing company, had published hundreds of reviews on behalf of 86 small businesses, ranging from from auto dealers and mechanics to landscapers and other craftsmen. , on 26 different websites.

Total SEO cooperated with the AMC consumer law investigation and escaped financial penalty. However, the SEO company has been ordered to remove the bogus reviews it has already posted and will suffer the added humiliation of having the CMA written to its clientele warning them about the company and the illegality of ask companies to write reviews on their behalf. .

Nisha Arora, Senior Director, Consumers, CMA, said:

“With more than half of people in the UK using online reviews to help them choose what to buy, they are becoming an increasingly valuable source of information. False reviews can lead people to make bad decisions and lose loyal businesses.

Returning to the United States, the New York State Attorney General’s Office arrested 19 companies in 2013 for offering to create fake reviews after a covert investigation in which employees of the Attorney General’s office took to task. masqueraded as the owners of a yogurt store in Brooklyn that was trying to increase its rankings online. The 19 companies identified by the survey agreed to stop manipulating sites like Yelp and were forced to pay more than $ 350,000 in fines.

Authorities constantly warn companies against unfair or deceptive business practices, such as falsely portraying themselves as consumers. These activities, they insist, harm both consumers and loyal businesses. The CMA says UK companies found guilty of publishing bogus reviews can be fined heavily or, in some cases, have their directors sentenced to jail.

People who write and post fake reviews online, or blackmail business owners or businesses with threats to post negative reviews about them, can also find themselves in hot water. As of October 2015, Amazon prosecuted 1,114 users identified in an investigation by company officials who attempted to purchase fake reviews from the Fiverr concert site.

Likewise, William Stanley (aka William Laurence, William Davis, William Harris and Bill Stanley) was sentenced this year to 37 months in prison after being convicted of threatening to write negative reviews and comments about the company. of mergers and acquisitions based in Dallas Generational. Fairness unless it gets paid.

The court also ordered Stanley, initially recruited by the firm for referral and reputation management services, to pay $ 174,888 in restitution to a dozen victims.

“Search engine optimization companies, PR and marketing agencies provide a valuable service to businesses, but they have to do it legally. Our enforcement action against Total SEO makes it clear that posting false customer reviews is unacceptable, ”added Arora.

Image: Small business trends

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