Tag Archives: fake

TripAdvisor Reviews – Cash Paid

TripAdvisor Pay-per-Review

Once again, the commercial potential for writing anonymous reviews is under the spotlight.  These invitations to tender to write reviews on TripAdvisor appeared on http://www.freelancer.com/ recently. NB the site in question has done nothing wrong in publishing these adverts.

This follows attempts by an individual to offer his services to hotels as an “insider” able to circumvent TripAdvisor’s checking procedures last October https://tripadvisorwatch.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/tripadvisor-pay-review-fake/ and a similar request for people to write reviews for money on a different website earlier last year https://tripadvisorwatch.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/hello-world/ .

Not exactly subtle, apart from the one that describes the job as “TripAdvisor SEO” aimed at “increasing rankings on TripAdvisor into the top 3”. Which is done by garnering high-rating reviews, of course. 🙂

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TripAdvisor Evades “Cheating Owners” Question

TripAdvisor Evades “Cheating Owners” Question

I recently posted concerning a property on TripAdvisor that had received a flurry of very suspicious reviews (see One More Reason Not to Trust TripAdvisor Reviews, November 22nd 2010) and asked why TripAdvisor failed to penalise this example of cheating.

TripAdvisor Owners Forum

TripAdvisor Owners Forum

Around the same time I asked on TripAdvisor Owners Forum why properties were allowed to get away with seeding their own listings with obvious fake reviews.

TripAdvisor failed to give any response to the question on the forum, but several of the fake reviews cited in the example were removed within a few days of being reported to TA.

Subsequently the question was removed entirely from the Owners Forum, the reason given to me off-forum being that

the open forum is not the appropriate avenue by which to report a review you feel is suspicious or inappropriate.

It was also suggested that my question could be a smear campaign against a particular property. I pointed out that reflected neither the content nor the purpose of the question I posed; my argument had required me to give an example of fake reviews (but I had not named the property) and TripAdvisor must have thought the reviews were suspicious as 3 were removed when they were reported through proper channels. They replied:

it is our policy not to disclose information about our investigations or actions taken regarding other members’ accounts or other properties’ listings. Keep in mind, though, that it sometimes happens that a review will be removed for reasons other than those for which it was originally reported, so the removal of a review should not be interpreted as an acknowledgment of anything except that the review either did not meet our guidelines or the author requested its removal.

Pull the other one, please! To suggest that reviews purporting to be from the USA, that said:

“My wife and myself were royally baffled by this unexpected eclipse of hospitality. Rare for French hosts, English is spoken very well.”

and

“The place is the fusion of high class and style – you can find yourself in the room with bed from Bali (put some colonial fumes in your evening) and the same time you can observe Mac book as a decoration over your head during the breakfast time. If you are still deciding where to stay visiting Pxxxx – don’t hesitate, Cxxxxx is the place to go !”

that were reported as fakes and were removed immediately, to suggest they were removed for any reason other than that they are obvious fakes, strikes me as disingenuous.

Further coincidence, the property in the example has not received a single review since the beginning of October when the fakes were reported. However, due to TripAdvisor’s failure to penalise the property, it remains the best rated in its area!

The TA system has proved its inadequacy once again.

One More Reason Not to Trust TripAdvisor Reviews

One More Reason Not to Trust TripAdvisor Reviews

At the beginning of this month I noticed on TripAdvisor a small B&B  with a rash of recent reviews that had pushed it to the top of the listings in its region.

The owners had no reviews on TripAdvisor until July 2010, then within a few weeks a regular series of reviews appeared.   Every review was by someone who had just joined TripAdvisor, all reviewers had done nothing other than review this one property, and all awarded this B&B 5 star reviews.  Oddly, the reviews were all in French until the end  of September, when a number of badly written English reviews appeared. 

One of the English reviews, purporting to be from the USA, said:

My wife and myself were royally baffled by this unexpected eclipse of hospitality. Rare for French hosts, English is spoken very well.

 That review was shortly joined by another from a supposed resident of New York:

The place is the fusion of high class and style – you can find yourself in the room with bed from Bali (put some colonial fumes in your evening) and the same time you can observe Mac book as a decoration over your head during the breakfast time. If you are still deciding where to stay visiting Pxxxx – don’t hesitate, Cxxxxx is the place to go !

There were several of these “English” reviews, one after another in the space of a few days around the beginning of October. 

Taken as a whole – the sudden surge of reviews by “virgin” reviewers at the end of summer into autumn, their unalloyed praise, the bizarre phrasing of the supposed English reviews – all this strongly suggested that some, if not all, of the reviews were “plants”.

TripAdvisor has since removed the obvious fake English reviews.

However, the French reviews have been left in place, the property did not get “Red Flagged” and it remains listed as the most popular B&B in the area, with nothing to indicate anything untoward has happened.  Effectively, the property has got away scot-free.

If one owner can do it, then doubtless other owners are also faking their own reviews on TripAdvisor.  Even worse, by removing the more blatant fake reviews that anyone could spot, but failing to penalise the listing, TripAdvisor actually makes a property look better:  people are more likely to be conned by the reviews that remain than they would if the obvious fakes had been left there!

Welcome to TripAdvisor, the world’s most trusted source of fake reviews!

Can Owners Successfully Cheat on TripAdvisor?

the tripadvisor “Red Flag”

Recently there was a flurry of news articles concerning a hotel in Ireland that was caught rigging its ranking on TripAdvisor by asking staff to post positive reviews from home.  This set me to thinking, how many owners has TripAdvisor caught pimping their own properties?

TripAdvisor Official Policy for Fake Reviews

TripAdvisor says it “exercises a zero tolerance policy for fake reviews” and makes a great play of detection measures, without saying exactly what these are.

With that armoury, you’d think it would be nigh on impossible to get a fake past them.

So are all TripAdvisor reviews “kosher”?

Of course not.  I recently spotted a small B&B property that had no TripAdvisor reviews until the end of June 2010.  In 4 months from July to October it has received 18 reviews; these were all in French until end September/beginning of October when 4 English reviews appeared, all by people who had just joined TripAdvisor, all of whom had done nothing other than review this one property, and all reviews 5 stars.

The latest English review, purporting to be from the USA, contains this line:

My wife and myself were royally baffled by this unexpected eclipse of hospitality. Rare for French hosts, English is spoken very well.

Spoken any better than the writer, I wonder? That review was preceded by this from a supposed resident of New York:

The place is the fusion of high class and style – you can find yourself in the room with bed from Bali (put some colonial fumes in your evening) and the same time you can observe Mac book as a decoration over your head during the breakfast time. If you are still deciding where to stay visiting Pxxxx – don’t hesitate, Cxxxxx is the place to go !

The sudden surge of reviews by “virgin” reviewers, the universal praise, the bizarre language used etc. strongly suggests these reviews are unreliable – but whatever common sense says, nothing can be proved. 

The fact is, if reviews are written by an owner and/or friends, they’ll get away with it unless they make a stupid mistake.

So How Many cheating owners has Tripadvisor caught?

If you search TripAdvisor reviews for properties that have been “red flagged” by TripAdvisor , there are about 280 results for all listings on TripAdvisor worldwide.

That’s not just hotels: it includes B&Bs, inns, restaurants, vacation rentals, amusement parks, tourist attractions, resorts – everything on TripAdvisor.

280 Dodgy Owners?

That’s 280 properties out of about 450,000 listings on TripAdvisor. 0.06% or one in 1,600.

That is an extraordinarily small proportion and suggests that TripAdvisor is not actually very good at all at catching cheats and frauds, despite  threats.

Now you see it – now you don’t

Even when it thinks it has “caught” someone, TripAdvisor sometimes changes its mind soon after. In a couple of minutes, I found 2 cases where TA had red flagged a property and then withdrawn it.  Here’s a cached snapshot of “Rome Empire Tours Vatican Museum” red flagged in August 2010:

Now you see it ...

And here it is now – the red flag has gone.

Now you don't

Another example is the “Aparthotel Iosefin Residence Timisoara” which was red flagged on October 25th:

Google cache on 25th October 2010

But now has a clean bill of health:

ApartHotel_Iosefin Residence Timisoara Now

Odd – were they considered to have served their penalty in that period?  Or did TA decide it hadn’t sufficient evidence to make it stick?

So – can owners get away with fake reviews?

The answer has to be yes: the same flaws in the checking systems that allow some owners to be victims of malicious reviews can be exploited by other, unscrupulous owners.

TripAdvisor mainly spots fake reviews by automated means – checking the reviewer’s email address,  IP address and cookies on their computer against their database of other accounts.  All of these can be circumvented by anyone with a modicum of knowledge of how these things work.  Other things that may flag a property for closer inspection include a sudden flurry of reviews, repeated patterns of words in several reviews, etc.

TripAdvisor’s weaknesses are no secret and are being used to abuse the system all the time.

Irish Hotel Faked Reviews

Clare Inn Hotel & Suites, one of the Lynch Hotel Group, has been given a “red badge” warning by TripAdvisor for reviews posted about it.

A TripAdvisor spokesperson said : “We have reasonable cause to believe the Clare Inn has engaged in suspect fake reviews on TripAdvisor.  Subsequently, a red badge has been applied to the Clare Inn pages on the site, warning all potential guests of the suspected activity. We have completed a thorough investigation and removed the reviews.

“The Clare Inn is the only Lynch Hotel Group property to have received a red badge, although reviews have been removed from other hotels within the group.”

RTE Four Live broadcast details of the story yesterday, claiming a hotel employee emailed seven colleagues telling them to fake good customer reviews.

The email, dated October 4, said there was a need for good reviews as renovation work had just begun:

We have come up with a plan for everyone on this email only to post a review about their stay at the Clare Inn.

You must do this from your HOME PC or internet cafe, do not use a Lynch PC or the IP address will be picked up.

I’d rather you didn’t discuss this with your team. This is not something we would normally endorse but the reviews of the Clare Inn at the moment leave us with no choice.

Please do not use hotel language or else our plan will backfire.

The email also told staff to “praise value for money” at the hotel and that different TripAdvisor accounts had already been set up for the staff involved.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg – the problem of fake reviews on TripAdvisor goes way beyond this one hotel and its crass attempt at deception.  We’ll have news soon on how many other properties have been “red flagged” in this way.

Fake Tripadvisor Reviewers To Be “Named and Shamed”

Online Reviewers Told : “Remove Fake Reviews or Face Consequences”

Individuals who place fake, fraudulent reviews on TripAdvisor and other user-generated review sites are to be named and shamed.

Fake Reviewers Warned

Those who have posted fake accommodation reviews will be given two-weeks to remove them or face being exposed in public and subsequent legal action.

Kwikchex, the online reputation-management company, has announced that next month it will publish a list of “thousands” of reviewers it suspects of posting fraudulent and defamatory comments.

I’ll be interested to see what form the “Name and Shame” list of alleged fake reviewers takes – TripAdvisor reviewers are anonymous.

Read the full article in the Telegraph Online:

Fake Tripadvisor reviewers face legal action

TripAdvisor – Pay Per Review

Thank you to @forfeng (Heather Turner of Forfeng Designs) for bringing trip-advisor-secret.com and trip-ranking.com to our attention via Twitter. (Note: these sites have now closed).

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These sites begin by offering a free “insider report” on how TripAdvisor works.  The site says that the authors are “a team of hotel marketing experts” and the sales pitch is signed by “JC – TripAdvisor ex-employee” who says:

Once you get our Free Report you will understand…

  • The TripAdvisor Philosophy – You need to really understand the problem behind the values and marketing strategies behind TripAdvisor, to understand the real risks of bad reviews in this site.
  • The TripAdvisor Secrets – how does TripAdvisor really makes money and why they don’t want you to know how they rank hotels.
  • The Fake Review Algorithm – How does TripAdvisor detects fake algorithms and how can you skip their detection system. In a few words… how you can play with the system!
  • The Ranking Algorithm – how does TripAdvisor really ranks businesses and who you can improve your ranking by fooling the algorithm
  • How to Rank higher than ever – We reveal what TripAdvisor doesn’t want you to know!

However, it does not stop there.  This is a preamble to an offer to put FOUR REVIEWS EVERY MONTH on TripAdvisor website on your behalf in return for payment.

Here’s how the websites say their scam works (the spelling mistakes/typos are original) :

How much does this cost and how many reviews do I get per month?

Trip-Ranking costs $67 US per month and you get each month 4 reviews

What Type of reviews do I get?

For obvious reasons you get Great Reviews. Not stupidly written reviews but instead smart, poisitive

How can you guarantee TripAdivsor will not detect these reviews?

Mainly because the users we use to post the reviews, have been created a long time ago. Many of our users are REAL users, they have posted dozen of posts in TripAdvisor therefore escape from the TripAdvisor false review algorithm

How long will it take me to increase my TripAdvisor Ranking?

It all dpeends on the area you are located. If you are a hotel In New York your competition is bigger than if you are a B&B in Ibiza!

Can I submit my own reviews for your team to post them?

Sure you can! once you subscribe you will get out contact details and our subscription form.  The more information you send us about your business, the better!

How long will this service be open to the tourism industry?
We are limiting our service only to 100 hotels. Once we achieve that number of clients we will close our service to the public.

So for just you can start taking control of your TripAdvisor image.

Sounds pricy, but perhaps there are dodgy owners out there who will think it’s worth cheating the TripAdvisor system – one of the major flaws being that it’s impossible for TripAdvisor to tell a well constructed fake from a genuine review.

EDIT: The  downloadable pdf file from the site describes both TA’s review checking system and its ranking algorithm largely as  I understand TA to work, so I believe what they claim to be able to do is possible.  That DOES NOT mean I approve of what’s being proposed.

See “comments” for more discussion.

UPDATE: As of 20th October 2010 both sites have been taken down.  Thanks to Mathew (see comments) for that information.