Web Watch: Fake online reviews - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Web Watch: Fake online reviews

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

When people are thinking about trying out a new restaurant, salon or sandwich shop sometimes they check out the online reviews before making their decision.

Prospective visitors like to read the reviews and see how many stars places are getting.

A recent undercover operation in New York found that a lot of business owners are willing to pay for good reviews even if reviewers have never visited their establishments.

New York authorities are cracking down on these companies that commission fake online reviews to enhance their business. The online ads ask internet surfers to post fake reviews online. The critiques go on sites like YELP, Google Local and City Search. This is a crime called astro turfing. An undercover operation called Clean Turf led state prosecutors to more than a dozen businesses who commission these reviews.

The team uncovered 19 businesses using made up profiles or paying others to post deceptive ratings. The critics are not local people by any means. Some of the businesses were recruiting comments from eastern Europe and Bangladesh.

Now these businesses are facing fines anywhere from $2,500 to $100,000. Prosecutors say this is not simply a case of fraud but rather an issue of public safety. A concerning trend, when you consider a recent study that says 90 percent of consumers say these reviews influence what they buy.

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