Positive online reviews can really help a small business. And negative reviews can tear it down. With that in mind, it didn't take long for company owners to realize they could post fake positive reviews for themselves, or poor reviews of their competitors to help the bottom line. So many did. They also solicited others to post reviews on their behalf.
Yelp, an online company with millions of reviews of local businesses, got fed up with the practice. Company personnel were finding one fake review posted on its site for every five new real ones. So it set up a sting to catch businesses in the act.
In 2012, a Yelp employee posed as an elite Yelp reviewer for hire on Craigslist and was offered $5 to $200 for posting false reviews. In some cases, the businesses had written a review of themselves they wanted the person simply to post. Other businesses wrote parts of reviews and asked the reviewer to fill in the rest. To punish offending businesses, Yelp posted a consumer alert on their profile pages. TripAdvisor put up similar scam notices [source: Streitfeld].
Unfortunately, the practice is not likely to stop any time soon. Consumers should be wary of extra-positive or negative reviews, particularly if they are generic, rather than giving specific examples. Potential customers should read through multiple reviews of a business to see if people praise or gripe about common things [source: Johnston].