An Owner’s Story
Fake Reviews on TripAdvisor
In the beginning there was a phone call …
A week ago we were retiring to bed for the night (the time was just after 10.00pm – we retire and rise early as we have to prepare guest breakfasts from 7.00am onwards) when we noticed that the answering machine was picking up a call (after 10.00pm it picks up calls immediately on the first ring).
This person called SIX TIMES within the space of 5 minutes and was answered by the machine each time, but did not leave any message. On the final call, thinking that perhaps it was an emergency, we picked up and an Australian voice – without apologising or introduction – demanded to speak to an Australian couple who were staying with us. I said that they had retired to bed and I could not disturb them unless it was an emergency, to which the caller replied that I should just put him through. I explained that we were not a hotel and so did not have phones in the guest rooms. He hung up on me.
Fake Review Number One
The following day I happened to be looking at our listing on TripAdvisor and saw the following fake review.
In the screenshot, our response is shown at the top – the fake TripAdvisor review is below.(CLICK TO ENLARGE):
Realising that this came from the caller from Australia posing as a guest, I immediately wrote our response and contacted TripAdvisor via the Management Panel to tell them about this review (plus another fake review about the same time – more about that later). I was dismayed to receive an email from TripAdvisor saying that “the situation is currently under investigation and a final determination will be made once the investigation is complete. Please allow up to 14 days for this process to be completed” – and in the meantime the fake review would remain in place for all to see.
“14 days?” I thought to myself, “Come on, TripAdvisor – surely you can do better than that – or do you simply not care?” All it took in this particular case was to check the IP address and date of submission of the review to see that the fake reviewer could not have been in France one evening and posting from Australia a few hours later! 14 days? It should have been resolved in one minute.
Furthermore, TA would not enter into any correspondence with us over the matter. “You will not be contacted with the details of the investigation as this information is proprietary.”
What a wonderfully transparent investigation process – not!!!
Further salt was rubbed in to the wound by the fact that our management response did not appear until 4 days after the fake review – considerably longer than it took for the fake TripAdvisor review to appear!
Trip Advisor Forum – thread pulled
I thought this process unnecessarily drawn out and unfair to us and other owners in the same position, and so I posted a message on the TripAdvisor forum called “Help us make TripAdvisor better!”. The post was entitled “Fake and Defamatory Reviews”: I proposed that where an owner challenges a fake review – either the person did not stay there, what they have said is untrue, or they have confused one accommodation with another – then the review should be “sandboxed” i.e. suspended until TripAdvisor can complete investigations. Just leaving fake or malicious reviews on view for up to two weeks was unfair, I argued. I made no mention of our particular case.
Unfortunately, some other TA forum members did refer to our particular fake reviews, and so TripAdvisor pulled the thread on the grounds that it called into question TA policy (God forbid anyone should do that!) and related to a specific review on TA.
Whoopee! Some progress at last!
Finally, today, Friday 25th September, this first fake review has been withdrawn, having been on view for all to see since the week before. Thank you for that, TA, but really it should not take that long and you should adopt a “sandbox” policy for dodgy reviews under investigation. You can’t just assume all reviews are genuine until proved false – in fact, I can imagine situations where it is IMPOSSIBLE for an owner to prove a review is false, even when he knows it is …
That’s not the end of it – worse to come
At the same time as the Australian review, we saw another bizarre and inexplicable review, posted by someone 15 months after they claimed to have stayed here!
We were surprised to find one stinky review on TripAdvisor relating to our property – not least because all our previous reviews had been very positive about us – but to find TWO posted in quick succession knocked us for six.
Fake Review Number Two
Here’s the other fake review (CLICK TO ENLARGE):
Again I posted a management response and reported that the review was false, and got the usual acknowledgment emails as for the first one. I argued that this review was as fishy as the other, on the following grounds:
- It seems unlikely that a genuine guest would wait 15 months to post a review after such an allegedly awful experience.
- Checking our spreadsheet booking records, we could not find a June night in either 2008 (or indeed 2009) when we had only one room occupied – we had at least two rooms booked, usually three, every night in June.
- We retire to the kitchen each morning and leave our guests to enjoy their breakfast alone in the dining room, so we can’t possibly engender a bad atmosphere over breakfast. We have no recollection of any incident of this sort and would never let it happen.
- As we recognise neither the reviewer nor their description of their visit, plus it is so long since they visited and they say they were here only one night, we believe we’ve either been confused with someone else or it’s another deliberate fake.
We also pointed out that parts of the house description correspond well, in fact some phrases word-for-word, with what one can see at a glance on the room descriptions of our website, but it is inaccurate and differs from what a guest will find here in several important and verifiable respects.
- The property is neither on the “edge of a tiny village” nor “isolated” : the property is actually in the centre of the village, just 100 yards or so from the village shops, bar and restaurant. Our west garden wall backs onto the Mairie. We’re 5 miles from the major town of Alençon.
- The village is large rather than “tiny”, with an infant and junior school, a senior college, playing fields, tennis courts, basketball ground, fire station, a small supermarket, a bar and restaurant, a hairdresser, a farm shop, an interior design shop and more.
- The rear garden is not “small” by any reasonable person’s standards as it covers a couple of acres with a fishing lake of 3000 square yards. The front garden adds another half acre.
- Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a “small room” but our smallest bedroom is 14m², which is 2m² larger than the “3 Epis” requirement for Gites de France, to which we belong. That excludes the bathroom which adds another 5m². Not palatial but big enough for most reasonable people – no-one has EVER commented on the rooms being small before. The largest room is 25m² (18+7).
TripAdvisor “lose” our management response
4 days after submitting our objection and our management response (and receiving acknowledgment of both) we had heard nothing more. Zilch. No management response appeared, the fake review was not pulled by the TripAdvisor team.
On querying this with @tripadvisor on Twitter, I was told by TripAdvisor that our “Management Response for “Terribly awkward” review was not showing up in (their) queue and (could I) resubmit it“. This despite the fact that I had emails from TA acknowledging receipt of our review. To lose a management response is almost as absurd and unbelievable as the fake reviews themselves.
Trip Advisor Fake Reviews – the current situation
I immediately resubmitted a management response to Trip Advisor and resubmitted the complaint that the review was either false or a mistake – after another 4 days our response has FINALLY appeared – unfortunately not as well phrased as it might have been, as I re-wrote it in a hurry in order to expedite matters and avoid more unneccessary fudging and delays from TripAdvisor. But better than nothing, thank you, TA.
BUT THE FAKE REVIEW IS STILL THERE AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TRIP ADVISOR IS DOING ABOUT IT – because, of course, TripAdvisor’s policy when dealing with owner objections is that “You will not be contacted with the details of the investigation as this information is proprietary.”
TripAdvisor Fake Reviews – update 1
On Thursday afternoon, 2nd October, 2 weeks after I alerted TripAdvisor of the fake reviews, the second malicious TripAdvisor review was finally removed. Naturally, nobody at TripAdvisor bothered to let me know!
Many thanks to all the people who have shown their support here and on Twitter.