INDIANAPOLIS -- Many of us rely on reviews and ratings of businesses to decide where to spend our hard earned money.
But fake online reviews could be fooling Indiana consumers.
Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney uncovered phony online accounts giving glowing reviews to Central Indiana businesses.
Emilly Scott has reviewed businesses all over the country, including five star reviews for two Indianapolis companies -- Choice Dental Centre and Chem-Dry, a carpet cleaning business.
However, the profile is actually a fake, according to experts we spoke with.
Scott’s picture actually belongs to Carole Easton, head of the Young Women’s Trust in London.
Call 6 Investigates found other fake reviews as well, like Lori Jones’ review on Indy Cellular 4 Less.
However, the profile is a fake, and the picture is really a film actress.
The profile used to review at a south side appliance store is actually a stock photo used for fitness magazines.
Positive reviews can mean big business for companies, and some enlist reputation management companies to help boost their scores.
For consumers, checking reviews on Yelp, Facebook and Google can be a great way to help decide where to shop and which services providers to hire.
But watchdogs Jason Brown and Mike Blumenthal have identified tens of thousands of fake profiles and reviews, and they’re working to weed them out.
“At Google, we see high volume abuses,” said Blumenthal. “They have not invested enough energy to keep up with the abuses in the marketplace. Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in large scale abuses from centralized companies selling reviews and they haven’t kept up.”
Blumenthal is the chief review officer at GetFiveStars.com, a platform that helps companies gather customer feedback.
“In certain areas, like moving and pest control, locksmiths, roofing, in those industries it’s much more prevalent,” said Blumenthal. “I would say as high as 5 to 10 percent of the reviews are fake in those industries.”
Brown said he found fake reviews in the health care industry as well.
"I'm kind of surprised at some of the services I'm seeing,” Brown said. “When you start seeing doctors, optometrists, dentists; that's a little scarier. Consumers aren't going to be able to know who to trust or what to trust."
Rook Security, a Carmel technology firm that protects its clients from fraud and hackers, looked at some of the fake profiles we found.
Chief Technology Officer Mat Gangwer said phonies often use real-life scenarios and even specific names of technicians.
"The reviews appear well written, so this could possibly be someone who does this professionally," said Gangwer. “They look very legitimate."
Gangwer said businesses also want more reviews because it improves how they get displayed on search engines.
"Having positive reviews and more of them is just going to draw even more people to your business. "
None of the Indianapolis businesses we found with fake reviews would talk to Call 6 Investigates on camera.
Kevin Jones with Chem-Dry said they previously used a service to help with online reviews, they ended the agreement after seeing fake reviews.
“I stopped using them,” said Jones.
Call 6 Investigates found several fake reviews on Indy Cellular 4 Less’s page, but CEO Brian Dalton said he did not believe either was from a legitimate customer.
“Since we entered into an agreement with web.com we have had many of these online reputation companies wanting to earn our business so to speak giving us free trials or wanting to show us what they can do,” said Dalton in an email to RTV6. “I know some basically spam them asking for a review as we have had a few of our regular customers tell us about it. My thoughts are possibly some of the others have decided to make their own with similar names, making up the same name or similar type reviews.”
Dalton said they’ve seen fake negative reviews about their business as well.
“We have also had bad reviews that the circumstance that is being described never happened or that customer never stepped foot in our store and we have then had the rep companies contact us almost immediately saying they can help,” said Dalton in an email to RTV6. “I have two employees other than my wife and mother and have poured my life into my business and would never do anything to jeopardize our integrity.”
Call 6 Investigates did not hear back from Choice Dental and a representative from Turner Appliance said they do not pay anyone to do reviews.
Google removes reviews that violate their policy.
If a user finds a review that he believes is fake, they can flag it for removal.
Google then assesses and possibly removes the review from the business listing.
Google provided the following statement to Call 6 Investigates:
“Spammers and others with negative intent are a problem for consumers, businesses and technology companies that provide local business information. We’re always working on new and better ways to fight these issues and keep our information up to date. We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud, but we tend not to share details behind our processes to avoid tipping off spammers or others with bad intent.”
Tracking down who's really behind these profiles, because getting the phony’s IP address would typically involve a court order.
Your best protection is to be an informed consumer.
“Dig into some of those profiles to make sure they smell right,” said Blumenthal.
Many of the fake profiles will review businesses all over the U.S. or go overboard for one business.
You should also read the negative reviews, not just the good ones.
“Quite frequently the businesses have negative reviews and they pay for positive reviews to sort of drown those out,” said Blumenthal.
Also, before you spend your hard earned money, read reviews in multiple locations and talk to the business directly.
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