State Fines Companies $350,000 for Fake Yelp Reviews

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Five stars! Photo: iStockphoto

It's not a huge surprise that there are all kinds of shady businesses lurking in the corners of the Internet promising to give foundering businesses a big boost with glowing, legitimate-seeming reviews for just a little cash up front, but it is kind of shocking that nineteen such companies are apparently not-so-hidden in the woodwork that they were caught during an extensive New York State investigation. The operation, which began with officials posing as the hapless owners of a Brooklyn yogurt shop looking for some good press, quickly blew up with offers from sweatshop reviewer operations in places like Bangladesh and the Philippines. Some of those caught and facing fines have pledged to stop fudging around, but the Times notes that "the fakers are constantly increasing in sophistication" with efforts to con the social network of user-submitted reviews. “What we’ve found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman tells the paper. [NYT, Earlier]