Yelp Busts Businesses By Using Their ‘Private’ Messages As Evidence Of Fake Reviews

By: Chris Crum - September 3, 2014

Yelp announced that it has released another round of Consumer Alerts on business pages. This time they’re dishing out a total of sixty-one alerts for businesses including dentists, hairdressers, plumbers, and car dealers.

This time, Yelp reveals that it busted some businesses bribing reviewers through messaging on Yelp itself:

For example, imagine you were considering using Atticare, a home cleaning company in New Jersey, or JCA Mechanical Plumbing & Heating in New York City, each of whom were the subject of private messages through Yelp offering money or gift cards in exchange for reviews on Yelp. Or if you decided to buy a car from Hooman Nissan in Long Beach, CA, where an employee was caught sending messages to Yelp users offering Clippers tickets in exchange for a 5-star review and even requested including his name in each review. In Las Vegas, Yelp’s detective team found that more than 50 reviews for towing company AAA Anytime INC came from the same IP address, indicating that someone may have been trying to goose their rating. And what’s worse, this is the third time we have warned this particular company about their behavior with a Consumer Alert. Those 50+ new reviews have been submitted since their last alert in February of this year.

Well, if nothing else, this seems to suggest that Consumer Alerts do little to deter businesses from engaging in this kind of behavior. Yelp said itself that this was the third time one business was slapped with an Alert, and that it found over 50 new questionable reviews just since February. It might, however, deter businesses from using Yelp’s messaging to try to get fake reviews.

Here’s one of those “private” messages Yelp shared on its blog:

“These businesses may actually be providing great products and services, but that’s really what their Yelp rating should be based on, not fake reviews,” writes Yelp’s Rachel Walker. That’s why Yelp goes to such lengths to protect consumers from this behavior in the first place and inform them of it as well. The good news is that Yelp’s team caught this behavior. We just think consumers have the right to know what’s happening behind the scenes when deciding what businesses to patronize.”

Interestingly, Union Street Guest House managed to escape any consumer alerts in this round. As you may recall, last month the hotel came under fire after it was discovered that it had a policy to charge wedding parties for any negative reviews left by guests in attendance.

A Yelp spokesperson told WebProNews at the time, “For 10 years, Yelp has existed as a platform to alert consumers of bad business behavior such as this.”

To our knowledge the hotel’s Yelp page has never carried one of Yelp’s official consumer alerts, though Yelp did remove a number of negative reviews that were left by people who learned about the hotel’s policy and retaliated. There are still plenty of negative reviews on the hotel’s page, including those mentioning the controversial policy. One even makes a point to say in the review that they’re using a 2nd Yelp account to leave the comments. It does appear that Yelp removed the five-star review left by Adolph Hitler.

The company has been celebrating its ten-year anniversary all summer. Last month, Yelp entered its 28th country – Chile. In its latest earnings release, it revealed that it had become profitable for the first time since going public. The company is facing a class action lawsuit from shareholders who claim it was misleading about reviews. Research shows that people in general are trusting online reviews more than ever.

Image via Yelp

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • http://www.descontosensacional.com Henry Guerrar

    Great post.
    It’s amazing when you find a good content in today’s internet.
    Dafiti

  • James Lewis

    I don’t understand why businesses do stuff like that, it is common sense that Yelp will monitor their internal messaging for this behavior. Why don’t businesses just ask their customers for reviews, give out post cards, display the stickers or use a solution like http://thereviewsolution.com/, http://business.trustpilot.com/ or https://www.demandforce.com/ there are so many ways of generating reviews online these days, why go black hat and violate their TOS?

    • http://www.islate.org/ Apple Tablet

      How do you know that it wasn’t their competitor that went black hat and posed as them.

      • James Lewis

        Good one :)

  • http://www.islate.org/ Apple Tablet

    Sadly as this does is allow competitors to do damage to your listing by acting like they represent your company. There is no reason that yelp can’t just not count the review. Google has done the same thing by punishing site for bad links and all that has done is open the doors to negative SEO.

  • Kimberly

    Full of Shit… Yelp deciding what is real and what is Not is totally horse Crap!!

  • Kimberly

    If you don’t PAY them to show your good reviews, that they BLOCK them on purpose, so you do what you have to do.. I tell all my clients to google bad business practice Yelp and look at all the lawsuits that are placed against them. They will be found out eventually, many of us as business owners are suing and spreading the word!!

  • martinw392

    Yelp is a well know legal extortionist racket. courts have even admitted this in a recent case against yelp, Yelp digitally extorts businesses in return for advertising dollar protection against bad reviews, businesses are just fighting back, and i say more power to them, FUCK YELP!

  • martinw392

    So what? all that will happen in the future is businesses will not use the yelp messaging service for this but rest assured it will always be the case and continue, There is just too much at stake to not do this, reviews are crap.

  • Born in 1977

    Reviews are not always crap. And when I wrote a review about a deeply disturbing experience at a local veterinarian recently I was amazed to not only see a review by the receptionist who works there pretending to be just a client with no personal gain to kiss up to her boss by writing a great review… but I also read a lot of other very upset reviews by other people who had taken their pets there, and I wished I had started using Yelp before this upsetting experience. And then, the nerve of a couple of other kiss-ups who wrote reviews had the nerve to accuse every upset review of being written by the same person. That’s crazy. People love their pets and when a doctor violates a lot of consumer protection laws involving obtaining informed consent before doing something that could harm your pet and is not necessary… you’re going to get a lot of people feeling just as victimized as I do. My pet died by the way. And yes, I did file a complaint with the state veterinary medical board.

  • Born in 1977

    I also wanted to add that I don’t like when businesses I regularly go to ask me to write them a review. So I never do it, because it won’t be a truly honest review, with the true pros and cons of my personal experience, if I write a review that they can clearly see came from me – unless I never go back to those businesses after I write them…