NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a $350,000 agreement Monday with 19 companies that allegedly wrote fake online reviews for businesses.
Schneiderman's office alleged that the companies manipulated consumer review websites like Yelp, CitySearch and Google Local by producing fake reviews. The process of preparing or disseminating a deceptive review is known as astroturfing. Schneiderman's office entered into assurances of discontinuance with the 19 companies and their affiliates that allegedly engaged in astroturfing with penalties ranging from $2,500 to close to $100,000.
The companies that agreed to the assurances of discontinuance include Zamdel Inc., doing business as eBoxed, XVIO Inc., West Village Teeth Whitening Services LLC, Magic Smile Inc., doing business as Magic Smile, Web Tools LLC, Webtools Internet Solutions Ltd., The Web Empire LLC, Utilities International Inc., doing business as Main Street Host, US Coachways Limousine Inc., US Coachways Inc., Swan Media Group Inc., Scores Media Group LLC, Stillwater Media Group, Outer Beauty PC, Lite Touch Plastic Surgery PC, Staten Island Special Surgery PC, Sans Pareil Surgical PLLC, Metamorphosis Day Spa Inc., Medical Message Clinic, HerballYours.com, iSEOiSEO, Envision MT Corp., Bread and Butter NY LLC, doing business as La Pomme Nightclub and Events Space, The Block Group LLC, doing business as Laser Cosmetica, LC MedSpa LLC, Body Laser Spa Inc., A.H. Dental PC, doing business as Platinum Dental, A&E Wig Fashions Inc. doing business as A&E, and NYS Surgery Center.
"Consumers rely on reviews from their peers to make daily purchasing decisions on anything from food and clothing to recreation and sightseeing," Schneiderman said. "This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution. And companies that continue to engage in these practices should take note: 'Astroturfing' is the 21st century's version of false advertising, and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it."
The so-called search engine optimization companies allegedly used advanced IP spoofing techniques to hide their identities and set up hundreds of fake online profiles on the consumer reviews websites to post the reviews. The companies also allegedly hired freelance writers from as far away as Eastern Europe, Bangladesh and the Philippines to write the reviews.