Tag Archives: fake reviews

How to Fake TripAdvisor Reviews

If you want to pressure TripAdvisor into improving security and verifying its reviews properly, please read then Tweet this post or post a link on Facebook.   Shortlink   http://wp.me/pS2vC-Hj 

Creating a Fake ID on TripAdvisor

A Fake Reviewer

I’ve occasionally mentioned how easy it is for unscrupulous owners to fake reviews of their own or of their competitor’s business if they wish to do so.  It is not necessary for them to employ someone else to do it, though that is an approach taken by some of them.

I’ve never actually spelled out how “bad” owners trick TripAdvisor to post their own reviews, as I don’t want to encourage it.  However, another site has recently spilled most of the beans (though it included one critical error!) and TripAdvisor has responded, so perhaps it is time to reveal all.

1. How TripAdvisor currently Catches Fakes

Every time you visit a website, the site logs your IP address (the identity of the computer that you are using at the time) and places HTTP cookies on the computer or other device you’re using to access the Internet.

This means that every time you visit TripAdvisor you leave behind information that reveals where you are, what kind of Internet browser you are using, what size of screen, what pages of the site you visit, and many other details about your computer and your actions.  At the same time TripAdvisor places cookies on your computer so that you can be identified when you return to the website.

This is the “hard” information that Tripadvisor uses in its “automated checking procedures” to identify who is posting reviews – and to catch people using multiple (fake) identities.

In addition TripAdvisor relies on “soft” information from users of its website to alert it to “suspicious” reviews.   I’ve done this myself and 4 reviews were deleted from a particular property, though the property was never “red-flagged” as a result.  I suspect, though cannot be sure, that properties are only “red flagged” where “hard” information is available.

2. How Fake Reviewers avoid being caught

I do not condone or encourage the use of the following information; but if the tricks become widely known perhaps TripAdvisor will verify its reviews properly, instead of dismissing concerns about the loopholes in its security.

1. Download an IP Changer such as Easy-Hide IP or Cyberghost  to hide your real IP – there are dozens of products available, some of them free.  An alternative to the fake IP address wheeze is to use free WiFi like McDonalds, or to use an Internet café.

2. Obtain an email address using hotmail, yahoo, gmail, or any other free email.

3. Clear cookies from your machine – this varies according to the browser you are using (e.g. Internet Explorer or Firefox or Chrome).  It is best to remove only TripAdvisor cookies rather than all cookies as some contain useful information like remembering favourite pages, login IDs on particular sites etc.

4. Go to TripAdvisor (using the IP changer) and create a new TripAdvisor account using the free email address.

5. Post a review.

That’s all that is needed.  The faker can now post as many reviews as he wishes under his new identity, BUT ONLY ONE REVIEW FOR ANY PARTICULAR PROPERTY.

3. Posting Multiple reviews for the same property

Anyone who wants to post several fake reviews for the same property has to work a little harder.

To review the same property again they need to cover their previous tracks and create a new identity.  So they need another new IP address (NB some of the free IP changers only give one IP to hide behind), a new email address, then they clear TripAdvisor cookies and create another TripAdvisor account using their latest email address.  This can be repeated ad infinitum.

4. How cheats further Cover their tracks  and Make Fake Reviews Convincing

None of the following are strictly necessary, but here’s how the professional faker or the keen cheater might further cover his trail and make his fake identities and reviews more convincing.

1. They might vary browser between Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari.

2. They can give their identity credibility by posting a reviews about other places over a period of time before posting the review that counts, and vary their star ratings.

3. They don’t draw attention by posting a lot of reviews at once, but spread them over weeks and even months.

4. If posting for the same property more than once, they might try to change writing style and vocabulary e.g. by converting reviews to another language then back into English using Google Translate – only correcting horrible gaffes, not bad grammar.  NB Don’t post reviews in a foreign language using Google Translate – appaling translation is how I uncovered the fake reviewer I exposed.

10. Those who create multiple accounts on TripAdvisor must keep a careful record of TA identities and  log-ins, plus the associated IP addresses and email addresses.

Further Reading

Here is the recent article on  http://www.visionarydining.com/tripadvisor which prompted me to set the record straight; it is Point 4 that is at fault, where it says to clear the Internet CACHE from the computer: it should say clear COOKIES.

Here is TripAdvisor’s response:

“We cannot emphasise enough our concern about this article; the activity it promotes is illegal and is strictly against our terms of use. Whilst the article in question does not condone the fraudulent use of TripAdvisor, it’s extremely disappointing to see anything which diminishes the high levels of integrity and respect for their customers that the vast majority of those working in the hospitality industry maintain.

“We also believe the vast majority of hoteliers understand the tremendous risk to their reputation and their business if they attempt to post fraudulent information on review sites like TripAdvisor. We take serious steps to penalise businesses who are caught attempting to manipulate the system.”

TripAdvisor : “We Are Not Making This Up”

“We Are Not Making This Up” is the ironic name of the official TripAdvisor blog.  Unfortunately that is more than can be said for some of the reviews.

Another advert for fake reviews just appeared on DigitalPoint, one of several marketplaces for fake reviews. 

This is a nice little earner for any home workers with a basic knowledge of how to use proxy IP addresses, multiple TripAdvisor identities using free email addresses and a minute to delete TripAdvisor cookies from their computer each time they log on.

Here’s the advert:  http://forums.digitalpoint.com/showthread.php?t=2315716

As for those who think they can always spot the fakes, recent research by Cornell University shows that they’re only deluding themselves: https://tripadvisorwatch.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/computer-program-to-spot-fake-reviews/

TripAdvisor Sued Over “Red Flags”

In a new twist to a story that first appeared in the press in September, hotelier Deborah Sinclair is now reported to be suing TripAdvisor after the travel website “red flagged” the Riverside hotel in Evesham, Worcestershire, effectively accusing the hotel of manipulating its system by posting fake positive reviews. 

Tripadvisor may be required to disclose the information that it relies on to “red flag” properties on its website and to prove that the hotel is responsible for the reviews.

TripAdvisor posts “red flags” against properties that it believes have manipulated reviews on its site; the warning says that TripAdvisor “has reasonable cause to believe that individuals or entities associated with or having an interest in this property may have interfered with traveler reviews and/or other popularity index for this property.”

“Red Flags” are rare but under UK legislation owners could be subject to charges of criminal fraud if it can be proved that they encouraged false positive reviews in exchange for free stays or other rewards, or posted fake positive reviews about themselves.  In addition to the legal threat the disgrace and loss of reputation of simply having a “red flag” could cost a hotel thousands of pounds worth of business.

The Riverside certainly seems to polarise opinion, as this screenshot shows.

However, the Riverside is not the only hotel or restaurant with such a weirdly skewed rating and divided opinion per se is not proof of cheating.  Furthermore, the posting of reviews from the hotel’s IP address would probably not be proof that the owner or staff had posted reviews, since guests are able do the same using the hotel’s ethernet connections or WiFi. Within its advice section, TripAdvisor recommends “guests submit a review when they return home from their trip. A review submitted from a hotel lobby computer” (or WiFi) “may appear to be written by staff”.  Of course, few people read this.

 Whatever the truth where the Riverside is concerned, if TripAdvisor cannot prove that the owner was responsible for faking reviews, then this case could eventually lead to it being forced to withdraw all “red flag” claims from its website or face further lawsuits.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2053221/Hotelier-sues-TripAdvisor-accusations-wrote-fake-positive-reviews-causes-revenue-plummet-75.html

Computer Program to Spot Fake Reviews?

Computer Program to Spot Fake Reviews?

Acknowledgment to Cornell University ChronicleOnline

As you probably know, opinion and review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are littered with fake reviews.  Review sites are regular targets for phony reviews – both positive reviews created by owners and managers and negative reviews to denigrate competitors.

Although many people claim they can spot fakes, recent research by Cornell University showed that in reality we are very poor at differentiating true from false reviews - human judgment proved no better than tossing a coin.

However, the same Cornell researchers have developed a computer program that is much better than humans at differentiating true from false reviews.

The work was reported in June 2011 at the Association for Computational Linguistics in Portland, Ore., by Claire Cardie, professor of computer science, Jeff Hancock, associate professor of communication, and graduate studentsYejin Choi and Myle Ott.

The team employed a group of people to deliberately write 400 false positive reviews of 20 Chicago hotels. These were compared with an equal number of genuine positive reviews for the same hotels.

Human judges – volunteer Cornell undergraduates – scored no better than chance in identifying fake reviews. They did not even agree on which reviews they thought were false, reinforcing that they were doing no better than chance.

According to the research team,  humans suffer from a “truth bias,” and assume reviews to be true until they find evidence to the contrary.  However, when people are trained at detecting deception they tend to become overly sceptical, swinging to far the other way and reporting deception too often, but still scoring no better than chance at telling true from false.

Computer analysis based on the text of known true and false reviews revealed, amongst other things, that truthful hotel reviews were more likely to use concrete words relating to the hotel, like “bathroom,” “check-in” or “price.”  Fakes included more context setting words like “vacation,” “business trip” or “my husband.”

Using this and other text analyses as algorithms, the researchers trained a computer on a set of true and false reviews, then tested it against the rest of the database.  By combining keyword analysis with the ways certain words were combined in pairs deceptive reviews were identified with 90% percent accuracy by the computer program.

Further research needs to be undertaken to see if a similar analysis can be equally successful at spotting true and false negative reviews.

This sort of software might be used by review sites as a “first-round filter,” Ott suggested. If, say, one particular hotel gets a lot of reviews that score as deceptive, the site should investigate further. 

While this is the first study of its kind, and there’s a lot more to be done, I think our approach will eventually help review sites identify and eliminate these fraudulent reviews.

Unfortunately, once everyone knows what the computer program looks for, the fake review writer will also know how to trick it.  Back to square one …

Earn Money Writing TripAdvisor Reviews

Earn Money Writing TripAdvisor Reviews

No, I’m not seriously suggesting you should do this – but some people do!  If you look on freelance work sites (where people advertise jobs and services) you’re likely to come across hotels requesting tenders to write fake reviews on TripAdvisor.

I’ve come across numerous examples of people touting to write fake TripAdvisor reviews, but never seen one where the owner gives away himself and the identity of his hotel.

Until now.

 

The owner has had plenty of offers from people who claim to have experience of writing fake reviews for other hotels on TripAdvisor:

Here is the owner’s hotel on TripAdvisor:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293924-d2079946-Reviews-Thaison_Palace_Hotel-Hanoi.html

At present, it has had 14 reviews in total, all posted in the past 8 weeks. Probably not all fakes but the fact that the hotel openly touts for people to write reviews and TA either knows nothing about it, or does nothing about it, makes a mockery out of the slogan “Reviews you can trust”.

The latest review is from a person from Boston with bad grasp of English. Their TripAdvisor credentials, as well as the weight accorded to their review by TA, are boosted by their having written a review for a place in Boston at around the same time they wrote the review for this hotel.

It’ll be interesting to see if it continues to climb up the ratings on TripAdvisor. Doubtless if challenged, the owner will claim it was a competitor who posted the advert. That’s what the last person exposed here claimed.