If you own a business, and you get reviews on places like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor, there's probably only one thing that makes you angrier than a bad review.

A fake review.  

They're big business. I wrote last year about a guy who used to write them for a living. Now another reviewer in the same line of business is paying big time for having done so.

When you hear what TripAdvisor did to him--let's just say they are not playing around.

You might have seen the headlines recently. The man who was caught is Italian, and he was sentenced to nine months in prison for posting more than 1,000 fake reviews. He was apparently working for a company called PromoSalento that sold reviews to restaurants and other hospitality businesses. ​

But when TripAdivsor got wind of its work, and launched an investigation of its own, it really turned into an extensive operation. As they explained the multi-step process:

  1. First TripAdvisor figured out the man's "email addresses, residential addresses and personal connections."

  2. Then, they did a digital forensic analysis to overcome the man's basic attempts to cover his tracks (changing email addresses, using different computers, etc.).

  3. They punished "hundreds" of suspected PromoSalento clients, by demoting them in the TripAdvisor rankings.

  4. For the worst business offenders, TripAdvisor posted red badges on their profiles "warning travellers that the business has been trying to manipulate reviews."
  5. With that example, they then turned to other businesses and threatendd to do the same thing. They were able to "flip" some of these other businesses, getting them to share "confirmation of payments, bank transactions and service receipts" that showed what PromoSalento had done.
  6. Then, they referred the whole thing to authorities in Italy. Apparently another business owner who had been propositioned by PromoSalento brought it to the Italian Postal and Communications Police, as well. 
  7. And finally, the net result: the owner of PromoSalento was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in an Italian prison and a $9,300 fine. (In Italy, assuming a fake identity to post a fake review is apparently a crime.)

"We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet," Brad Young, an attorney for TripAdvisor, told reporter Alex Horton at The Washington Post. "Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we've seen someone sent to jail as a result."

Of course, fake reviews are a real threat to businesses like TripAdvisor and Yelp, in which the product really is user-generated content. If users don't trust the reviews, the whole thing falls apart.

Bottom line, TripAdvisor sounds like it's really trying to send a message and set an example with this one egregious offender. Now he'll have the chance to review a prison. 

Not that you can't find stuff like that already.

Published on: Sep 15, 2018