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Business Litigation Alert: "Fake On-Line Reviews Can Lead to Real Legal Trouble"

New York State Cracks Down on Fraudulent Online Reviews

Online review services such as Yelp and Trip Advisor have grown in popularity over the past few years. But, sometimes it can be hard to know if a review is real or just a disgruntled ex-employee or a paid shill. Now, New York State has become the first state to initiate a major crack down on deceptive reviews on the Internet.

The state conducted a year-long undercover investigation into companies that create fake reviews on behalf of their clients. A total of 19 companies agreed to pay a combined $350,000 in penalties and to stop this deceptive practice.

Because more states are expected to follow New York’s lead, this is an issue that any service oriented company should be monitoring.

While it might be tempting to combat negative reviews of your company with positive reviews posted by an outside source or by employees, this kind of false advertising can lead to a legal trap. So what can be done to ensure that employees do not take matters into their own hands?

  1. Policies and procedures must be in place to govern this kind of behavior, just as they are to govern any other Internet or social media usage by employees.
  2. Make sure employees understand that enlisting friends or family members to post fake reviews is akin to employees posting it themselves.
  3. Monitor services such as Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch to see what is being posted about your company. This will help you to catch any suspicious behavior before it gets out of hand.

This might seem like a minor infraction, but it has ended up costing several companies thousands of dollars, and has now set a precedent that this kind of illegal online action will no longer be tolerated. The more aware you and your employees are of the legal ramifications of these kinds of fake online reviews, the better you can avoid a costly investigation.

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