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

Chris CrumBusiness

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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

Chris Crum
Chris 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.