This is big news.
Congratulations to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and his team whose undercover investigation caught the sleazery in action.
“Operation Clean Turf” found companies were using their employees, freelance writers, and “reputation management” services to post fake reviews on sites like Yelp, Google Local, and Citysearch. And now they’re busted, facing fines, and embarrassed.
Here’s what we can learn from this:
You can’t hide.
These companies solicited “experts” — people who knew how to create a fake profile, write a fake review, and avoid getting flagged by these review sites’ aggressive policing. But even these professionals couldn’t outsmart everyone.
You will get busted.
Cases like these are going to start popping up more often. The New York A.G. (and the FTC) has put the industry on notice, and it looks like enforcement is already here. Pay attention: What the NY A.G. does, other states often follow.
You will get fined.
These 19 companies are facing over $350,000 in fines. Even worse, they’ll probably get removed from Yelp and banned from Google (yes, banned from Google, who has said they will start removing companies caught using these illegal practices).
You will get embarrassed.
This ruling will be a stain on these companies’ reputations that no fake review can hide. News about this ruling is spreading fast, and once the word is out, no one will trust even their authentic positive reviews.
More investigations will come. More marketers will get caught. It’s just better to be honest.
I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.