Companies to pay $350,000 fine over fake online reviews

A collection of 19 companies promise to stop the practice and agree to pay a total fine of $350,000, reports The New York Times.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney

A teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain, a charter bus company, and an adult entertainment club are among those due to pay fines in a case involving phony online reviews.

On Monday, New York regulators are scheduled to announce agreements with 19 companies accused of posting fraudulent reviews of their services or those of their clients, The New York Times has reported. The companies in question have all pledged to end the practice and will pay a collective fine of $350,000.

Among the companies involved in the case are "reputation-enhancement firms." These businesses post fake reviews on behalf of their clients on such sites as Google, Yelp, and Yahoo. Investigators with the New York attorney general's office found people in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe willing to create stellar reviews of businesses they had never used, all for just a buck per review, according to the Times.

One company charged in the investigation, US Coachways, hired freelancers to write positive reviews to counteract the slew of negative comments from customers about its bus service, the Times added.

"What we've found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, according to the Times. "When you look at a billboard, you can tell it's a paid advertisement -- but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you're reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving."