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Review Sites Punish Companies for Fake Reviews

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December 30, 2013
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Review Sites Punish Companies for Fake Reviews

We post pretty often about the increased use and importance of online review sites, particularly when it comes to finding the right provider for peace of mind that you will get from a wireless home alarm system – especially one with safer cellular monitoring, like the systems FrontPoint sells.

Customer Reviews Count for a Lot

Many consumers believe that actual customer reviews available at these sites represent the most effective and efficient method for comparing products and service providers: it just makes sense that when protecting your home and family, you definitely want to choose the company with the best reputation and the latest technology, along with the highest service level.

We already know the extent to which alarm shoppers use the Internet to research companies like FrontPoint – for the complaints, as well as the raves. And I've previously posted on the relevance of these alarm company review sites. Today you can check online reviews for just about any alarm company - even the ones who knock on your door, offering a deal you cannot refuse: just remember: you really want to do your homework before you sign up with any home service company – especially home security.

Some Good Examples of Review Sites

Some popular sites (like and have a starred rating system, and users can apply a score along with a detailed description of their experience. I referred to Angie’s List in a recent post – that’s a membership review site, where subscribers can share detailed notes about a wide range of service providers – including alarm companies. By the way, FrontPoint has far more reviews on Angie’s List than any other alarm company – and they are truly great reviews.

Some Companies are Gaming the Review System

Unfortunately, as often happens, there are inevitably some companies who push (or indeed tear!) the envelope by trying to twist a breaking trend to their advantage – and not in a necessarily ethical manner. We had a strong hunch this was happening, but it’s been confirmed, as reported in this article on how review sites are reacting to potential abuse.

Businesses caught soliciting favorable reviews are increasingly running the risk of getting slapped with a badge of shame. Like every Web site that depends on consumer critiques, Yelp has a problem with companies trying to manipulate their results. So it set up a sting operation to catch them.

Bad Guys Exposed

The first eight businesses — including a moving company, two repair shops and a concern that organizes treasure hunts — will find themselves exposed on Thursday. For the next three months, their Yelp profile pages will feature a “consumer alert” that says: “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.” Potential customers will see the incriminating e-mails trying to hire a reviewer.

Giving in to Temptation

With online and offline commerce increasingly driven by reviews, businesses can be irresistibly tempted to make themselves look better than they are. They commission favorable descriptions of themselves and may even bribe customers to say how terrific things were. The most unscrupulous write unflattering comments about competitors. TripAdvisor has put up similar warning notices, but declined to say how extensive its effort was.

Sites Protecting the Consumer

In general, however, review hubs have tended to deal with fakery very quietly, even as the problem has grown. “The bigger Yelp gets, the more incentive there is to game the system,” said Eric Singley, its vice president for consumer products and mobile. “These notices are the next step in protecting consumers.” Yelp has more than 30 million reviews. For every five new notices that are submitted, one is determined by internal filters to be so dubious — either highly favorable or highly critical — that it is banned to a secondary page, which few users bother with, instead of appearing on the business’s profile page.

Tagging Suspicious Reviews

Many of the reviews tagged as fake are written by people new to Yelp. To have the best shot at getting a solicited review onto a profile page, a sneaky business needs to find someone with a track record on the site, whom Yelp has called an “elite” reviewer. It does this by advertising on classified sites like Craigslist. That was where Yelp went to conduct its sting. A Yelp employee posed as an elite reviewer and got the businesses to reveal themselves.

Paying for Good Reviews

The size of the promised payments varied widely, and so did the work required. A pest control company offered $5 to anyone who would post a review that the business itself had written. The moving company was willing to pay $50 but wanted original copy. An appliance repair shop provided a start: “I really appreciate that the service tech was on time, the problem was solved, everything was cleaned up and he was very professional. Please add 50 or more words,” the shop suggested. It would pay $30.

High Stakes in Some Cases

The highest payment was offered by a jewelry store in San Diego, which said it was forced to solicit reviews after others got away with doing it. “We have noticed that some of our larger, corporate run competitors have been unfairly trying to get reviews written for them on Yelp, which puts us at a disadvantage,” wrote Bert Levi of Levi Family Jewelers. He said he would pay $200 for a review of a new custom-designed ring. Asked Wednesday for his side of the episode, Mr. Levi said, “I need to talk to my lawyer.”

At Least It’s a Start

Considering the volume of fake reviews, putting a spotlight on eight businesses is only a modest crackdown. “It is safe to say this is just a sample” of businesses soliciting reviews, said Mr. Singley of Yelp. Myle Ott, a doctoral candidate in computer science at Cornell who has researched the rates of deception across various review communities, including Yelp, said public notices were a warning that businesses might well heed. “My intuition is that public shaming would increase the risk and therefore the cost of posting fake reviews, which could reduce the prevalence,” he said.

We encourage all our prospective customers to search for “FrontPoint reviews.” There’s a lot of good news to read about FrontPoint, and you can believe every word of it. In fact, you’ll find the same great response to us everywhere you look. We put a tremendous amount of effort and resources into being the most trusted alarm company anywhere in the US and Canada. As the leader in wireless home security, and the #1 ranked home alarm company in the US, FrontPoint is committed to your safety and security – and that means honest and transparent sales and advertising, no hidden fees, the best technology at the best price, and world-class service. Now that’s peace of mind.

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