Today, the Office of the New York Attorney General announced that it took action against several businesses that tried to mislead consumers through paid, fake reviews, also known as astroturfing. We applaud these efforts, which further demonstrate that deceptive reviews are a form of false advertising and therefore subject to prosecution.
These actions of the NY AG also highlight Yelp’s leading efforts to protect consumers and honest business owners from unscrupulous scammers.
We’ve placed a high priority on protecting consumers from fake reviews since day one, and years ago took action to put an end to the misleading practices of several of the businesses now targeted by the NY AG, including Rani Spa, ESIOH Marketing, and Premier Retail Group (aka Infinite Beauty).
Through Yelp’s advanced recommendation software and Consumer Protection Initiative that includes undercover investigations, Consumer Alert program, and legal enforcement efforts, we’ve been able to mitigate the effect of these bad actors. We filed legal action in 2013 against James McNulty, the internet scammer paid by Rani Spa, which led to his admission that Yelp’s recommendation software had foiled his attempts to place fake reviews. ESIOH Marketing halted their services and took down their website in response to our demands in 2014, and Yelp caught Premier Retail Group (aka Infinite Beauty) soliciting reviews on Craigslist the same year, which resulted in us removing many paid reviews and closing associated user accounts.
The sad reality is that some businesses will always be tempted to try to game the system, which is why Yelp is committed to continuing our efforts and leading the industry in an aggressive stance against astroturfers. We commend the work here of the New York Attorney General and hope to see other regulators follow their lead.