TripAdvisor Appoints Head of Fraud

Andrew Marane. "Content Integrity" will stop short of verifying facts or whether people have used the places they review.

In an attempt to stem the continuing problem of “fraudulent reviews”, Mr. Andrew Marane has been appointed new “Director of Content Integrity” on TripAdvisor.

Ex-Navy, Marane worked in law enforcement where in the latter part of his career he worked on organized fraud investigations. He then moved on to the insurance industry before his last move to eCommerce and financial markets.

Marane says of his role in TripAdvisor, “People who try to affect the quality on TripAdvisor never stop thinking of new ways to improve their attempts, so we should continue to improve, also.”

It is revealing that TripAdvisor consistently uses the term “fraudulent” rather than “fake” reviews, suggesting that it is more intent on catching owners trying to game the system rather than malicious guests.

In announcing Marane’s appointment TripAdvisor does not mention any plans to verify that reviewers have used the restaurants and hotels that they review, nor to fact-check the veracity of reviews.   Until such measures are taken, the use of marketing phrases like “Real reviews by real people” will continue to be forbidden in the UK market despite its use in the article introducing Marane.

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17 responses to “TripAdvisor Appoints Head of Fraud

  1. This is an interesting site, and quite an important reminder to those who believe the ratings from “actual travelers”. I am the DE for St Petersburg Russia, an American living here for 9 years and quite familiar with the city and tourism.
    Visitors are greatly disadvantaged by the fake positive reviews and anonymous slams. It can cost a lot, negatively impact safety and generally is a total scam.
    Imagine for example a with spectacular museums, restored palaces and cathedrals, with many of the 254 museums being the best of their type in the world. So, according to TA and its rating system, the State Hermitage Museum, an icon in the museum and restoration field, often cited as the best museum in the world is ranked on various days from 3rd to 20th on the list of things to do while a single guide working solely out of her cell phone, with no licenses, no office and no history gets ranked #1. This was the case most of last year when the offender posted 5 rave reviews in one day, all by first time posters, the same day that the guide got her domain name registered. There was no record of her in either local business licensing databases or the required federal tour operator database that requires tour operators, before being permitted to host foreign visitors, proving financial stability by posting a sizable bond. The next day and for many months, she was rated #1 of all activities in this city of 7,000,000. I wrote to TA with evidence that the posts were fake, the lack of licensing or a physical office(she gave an address that I knew well, it was a vacant lot that is being turned into a 10 acre community garden. TA’s response was that I could not comment because I admitted I had not taken her tour. My contention was the NO ONE had taken her tour.
    So, based solely on that bit of gaming the system and TA encouraging it, all the little start up tour operators have been trying to out do the others.
    Established respected tour companies with insurance, proper licenses, drivers with proper licenses and reserves to back up what is claimed have been hurt badly. The oldest such company, operating since 3 years after the fall of the USSR has had most of their market taken from them, and had about 1/2 the bookings directly from TA rave fake reviews, just as an example. Real harm is being caused to travelers, and TA should be head accountable when their rating system is biased towards cluster postings. 10 highly positive reviews each year for 10 years count much less than 10 total reviews clustered in one day all by “people” with no posting history and joining minutes before posting, and never logging in again.
    One such shore excursion company, a tiny one, has 158 positive all “5″ reviews, for this season, their first season of operation, so is highly ranked, higher than major world class museums and palaces that millions of people come here to see. Nothing wrong with that, you say, provided the reviewers are real and as enthusiastic as claimed. Only problem is that the passenger count maintained by the immigration officials for who and how many people are being hosted by which tour companies says that same company hosted only 112 people all season, when converted to tours, that represents 30-50 tours since most posters are a couple or family. I supplied official documents from the government about the total of her tours, yet TA said it was, essentially, none of my business.
    I can give dozens of well documented examples. The most popular tour company right now, #1 did not exist before April 2012.
    I calculated from inside knowledge that each fake post raving about a small unknown tour operator is worth $50,000 in sales. The incentive are high.

    The exact same situation exists with restaurants, cafes and even commercial art galleries. As a case in point, on my walk home from work daily i used to pass a little underground Mexican restaurant. There are not many in the city so I pay attention. It was usually empty, maybe 1-2 tables occupied of the 7 tables. Suddenly it is rated 5th best restaurant in the city. I checked the reviews and most were posted around the same time from locals, not tourists. I decided to visit it and found it was OK, not particularly good but not too bad except for the food was not even given correct names and the Margaritas the bragged about were made with lemonade and sugar and possibly a hint of tequila but no ice, served room temperature.. When the barman(the guy making the drinks but also the clean up person, came over to my table to ask if that wasn’t the best drink i ever had, I gave an honest review and suggested how to make a real Margarita. He got angry and said i did not know anything, went off in a huff and never returned to bring my date’s drink. He was standing 8 feet away and would not acknowledge us or respond to the waitress who was caught in the middle. So not a highly experience for us.
    Due to the TA rating, within days of the fake posts and fake rating, there was a constant line of foreigners waiting on the sidewalk outside for a chance to get a reservation.
    Mini-hotels, small converted residential apartments with 3-5 rooms and no services or reception, mostly in run down buildings around the city center, are often rated this way far about the top real hotels or even the Grand Hotel Europe, recipient of the Best Luxury Hotel in the World award by the industry in 2009.
    If this is happening here with such negative impact on visitors, it must be going on in every travel destination if a good fake rating can mean the difference between a marginalized property and super success, the stakes are just too high to expect everyone to play fair or honestly.
    Good luck in your quest to make TA and other more accountable but they claiming no liability since they are not making the claims. But they are accessories to economic crimes of fraud, the crime would not be committed if they did not facilitate it or make it easy and profitable, without recourse.They know it is happening and are laughing all the way to the bank

    • Many thanks for taking the time to tell us in such detail about your own experience of how TripAdvisor reviews are working (or rather, being manipulated) in St Petersburg. I think that anyone who takes the time, as you clearly have, to look beyond the face values will find similar scams going on in most destinations – I have made very similar observations to yours for the region of France where we are based.

      I’ve been encouraged by the way that the British media in particular have been putting TA under closer scrutiny over the past couple of years, and there have been a number of minor victories for the “Truth” over that time, but as you observe, there is a long way to go and it is easier for TA to ignore the complaints and gloss over their faults.

      The best TripAdvisor scammers don’t have just one review to their fake names, BTW – they are savvy enough nowadays to make sure their fake “reviewers” clock up several reviews.

      • One proposal I suggested when TA asked DE’s for recommendations how to adjust their system, fell on deaf ears. I noticed that their algorithm for calculating the significance of a post skewed ratings towards the wrong posters. Clusters or a burst of reviews counts much greater because they claim it identifies a trend. It does just the opposite, it encourages 1-post wonders with dozens of gmail accounts.
        My proposal was to weight posting value based on long term posting history, the breadth of posting subjects and their rating mean and number of “thanks” received, and time of day.
        A poster with 1700 posts on 1200 topics over 8 years is more likely a real traveler than the person who posts a single glowing report, from the same time zone and IP address of the business owner. I noticed with the suspicious posts, they appeared during normal working hours in St Petersburg which was 8-12 hours ahead of the vast majority of actual traveler’s working hours.
        Back when people read paper books, the NY Times Best Seller list made or broke a publication in days. Now, sites like Amazon control public opinion about books through “user reviews”. When a publisher’s investment is at stake, there is a strong incentive to fake glowing reviews or more often to slam their competition. Naturally advertising revenue has been tanking in recent years since the big influence on opinion is the internet, not print or TV so hundreds of internet ad shops have sprung up to make sure a product or hotel gets a positive buzz. They do that with fake reviews, building their own review sites and dominating forums on all subjects where money can be won or lost by shifting public opinion.
        Scientific American even had an article about this 2 years ago and mentions TA and other by name in the exploitation by giving opinion makers an uncontrolled playground. One would have to be very cynical after reading the posts and reviews in subjects they know about, leaving the imagination to fill in the details of how every opinion that takes hold is fake and manipulation about products, media, leisure time, and particularly politics. Can anyone be sure of any ratings unless they know the person personally nowadays?
        Case in point: I was interviewed last year by a writer of well known guide books. I took him to task for printing some rather dodgy “recommended” services, hotels and cafes that any local knew was clearly a mistake. He told me to not be naive, they were “cooperative associates” meaning they paid or comp’d him for what could be a boost of millions of dollars in additional sales.

      • Top Contributor

        Does anyone happen to have the contact infor for their fraud unit? I have been accused by a business of trying to extort a good review which is completley false as the details the give in their response to my bad review are false.They obviously think I am someone else as I have the documentation to prove they are incorrect yet TA allows them to publish these allegations about me….

      • Hi TC

        If you look on the page with your review and the response there is a link for you to complain there – just click on “Report response as inappropriate”. However, unless you used your real name as your TA ID then I wouldn’t bother as nobody knows who you are anyway, except for the owner who can usually figure it out (unless it is a very large hotel and there are few specifics in the review). In that respect reviewers have inbuilt protection whereas when people say hurtful things about the owners everyone knows who they are.

        All the best

        Phil

      • Thanks for responding Phil. I have tried that as well as other members have reported the comments after asking what to do on their forum and they took a look at their post. Still nothing! This is very frustrating as I have the documentation and booking infor to prove that this person obviously has confused me with someone else or made-up these allegations. I am very disappointed with TA that they would allow this:(

  2. I’m still waiting from my reply from Marane’s team. This Trip-Advisor i an hybrid of Kafka and Bradbury mixed together. They haven’t change a bit, still the good old same scam. And people still put malicious reviews all over. As a business owner I never signed up with them, but 3 years ago a very happy customer did…and, oh god, it did not do us a favor, the poor soul!! We have run our business 7 years prior to the first entry. We never wanted to be a part of it…because we knew all along. Our position is even worth than most owners, because we can’t even reply to the review, you know the: “owner what is your side of the story”. Right there, that sentence is an insult to our intelligence.
    Trip-Advisor runs the tourism industry worlwide! It belongs to them and we don’t have any legal resources or system to defend ourselve.

    • You should at least be able to reply if you claim the listing as the property owner on TripAdvisor. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing, and you can object to false reviews – they don’t ALWAYS ignore owners, just mainly!

  3. I want to praise TA. We run motels and are new to using the TA response features. We were the victim of someone posting a very malicious, false and phony review. We send TA the facts about why the malicious review was a fake. TA had the review removed in lesss than 24 hours. It seems the Content Integrity team at TA is serious and efficient about addressing substantila complaints. Our thanks to them!

    • Nice to hear a successful overturn of a malicious review – it’s not always so simple and a lot of owners simply get no response other than an automated email. Thanks for sharing a positive experience. :)

      Phil

  4. Trip advisor have a published policy that forbids the publication of
    libellous statements. When libellous statements published by them are brought to their attention, followed up by legal correspondence, they ignore it. Trip advisor are internet bullies, answerable to no-one, and will do anything, including publishing false and libellous comment, to generate business. They do not even have the courtesy to answer correspondence. I am cancelling my business listing, and advise all other accommodation providors to have nothing to do with a company so lacking in morality and integrity.

  5. Has anybody told Mr.Marane that a multi $ billion turnover media sales /online travel agent is fraudulently passing itself off as a consumer champion.
    They are about search engine optimisation via user generated content and turnover from commission, advertising and ,pay for click revenew and “business accounts”. They have massive resources yet they steadfastly refuse to check that reviewers have actually been to the attraction or stayed at the accommodatiion reviewed.
    That is fraud.

  6. I wonder if TA have ever heard of the phrase ‘bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted’?
    Their lack of common sense never fails to amaze me.

  7. At Rated-Places we ALWAYS confirm that the review has been written by a bona-fide paying guest. We ask all reviewers to leave their full name, address, and email and then we send the review to the property/business owner and ask them to confirm, specifically, that the review “is accurate, has been written by a bona-fide paying guest and is factually accurate at the time of posting” and this is added to the footer of each review as it is verified. Surely there is no point in reviews unless they can be verified. Presumably this makes me Head of Fraud??

    • The flaw with that system is that owners would be disinclined to confirm a negative review. Personally, I would like to see reviews on TripAdvisor to be made only by people who can be verified to have booked through TripAdvisor and/or its associates like hotels.com.

      • Hi Phil,
        Yes, agreed, but as soon as an owner feels disinclined to verify a review we simply ask the reviewer to provide irrefutible proof that they stayed (booking confirmation, in-site photo etc). Crucially though, we will then give the property owner two options a) have the review posted with their reply at the bottom of the page or b) remove their property and all additional reviews from the site. In this way their business is not in danger of being damaged by a bad reivew, but they don’t get to simply cherry pick their best reviews. It’s not perfect, agreed, and we’re currently putting together a band of ‘Verified Reviewers’ whose views we know we can trust – but we hope it’s a fairer system than TA’s!

      • I could live with that :)

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