A pivotal legal ruling in Italy saw a persistent online review fraudster sentenced to jail, prompting reviews site TripAdvisor to emphasise its stance against paid reviews companies.
The Criminal Court of Lecce ruled that writing fake reviews using a false identity is criminal conduct under Italian criminal law.
The owner of PromoSalento, which sold fake review packages to hospitality businesses in Italy, was sentenced to nine months in prison and ordered to pay approximately 8,000 euros (US$9,294) in costs and damages.
Paid review fraud – when companies or individuals ‘sell’ fake reviews to business owners – is a violation of the law in many jurisdictions, but this is one of the first cases of enforcement resulting in a criminal conviction.
In a statement, TripAdvisor said it supported the prosecution of PromoSalento as a civil claimant by sharing evidence from its extensive in-house fraud investigations and providing support from its Italian legal counsel.
“Review fraud is something TripAdvisor takes extremely seriously, employing advanced tracking technology and a dedicated team of investigators to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on the site,” the statement read.
Brad Young, vice president, associate general counsel, TripAdvisor, said: “We invest a lot in fraud prevention and (are) successful at tackling it – since 2015, we’ve put a stop to the activity of more than 60 different paid review companies worldwide. However, we can only do so much alone, which is why we’re eager to collaborate with regulators and law enforcement authorities to support their prosecutions.”
The company last year published the World Committee on Tourism Ethics guidelines, with recommendations developed in collaboration with TripAdvisor, Minube and Yelp.
“We know that industry collaboration has an important role to play in tackling review fraud,” Young stressed.
TripAdvisor assures that all reports made to its Content Integrity team will be investigated and “any information, no matter how minor” can help.
TripAdvisor recently launched a new online information resource where people can learn more about how the company moderates reviews and protects its content. New articles will be added regularly addressing popular topics such as how TripAdvisor moderates reviews, or determines whether a review is biased.