Are Fake Reviews Illegal? | Lendza (2023)

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  • Are Fake Reviews Illegal?

  • Are Fake Reviews Illegal?
  • The Temptation
  • What the FTC Thinks About Fake Reviews
  • What if Someone Posts a Fake Review About You?
  • Are Fake Upvotes Illegal?
  • Google SEO and Fake Reviews
  • Final Thoughts

by Mike Abelson September 24, 2018

(Video) Are fake reviews illegal?

What to know before you risk creating or buying reviews for Yelp, Google My Business, Amazon, TrustPilot, and your website’s testimonial section.

Business Tips

Are Fake Reviews Illegal? | Lendza (1)

We’ve all seen businesses get ahead with great word of mouth. It’s why you can’t leave a mom and pop restaurant with the owner shaking your hand and asking you to leave them a review on Yelp. Wouldn’t it be faster for business owners to write their own reviews? Is that even legal?

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(Video) Fake video testimonials: Inside the world of fake reviews (CBC Marketplace)

That’s a good question. The answer is that yes, posting fake reviews is illegal. The FTC goes after companies for it. However, most companies probably get away with it.

The Temptation

Nine out of 10 customers are influenced by online reviews, according to Dimensional Research. A solid testimonial section on your website not only adds credibility to your site, but it also sends signals to Google that can result in better search rankings for your keyword terms.

If it were easy, everyone would do it. The problem is that it’s challenging to generate honest, positive reviews – especially if you are in a business where it’s very easy for a customer to have a bad experience.

At, we help customers find small business and startupfunding. We also are the bearers of bad news for many customers who cannot help find money. Many of these people feel their only recourse is to badmouth us on review sites. At the same time, very few of the people we help decide to go and leave a good review.

Think about this way: how many times have you gone into a restaurant, ordered your food, and found out that the restaurant would not be able to serve you? Not too often. If it did happen, you might leave the restaurant a bad review online.

If you are in an industry where you have to turn away customers, your bad review to good review ratio probably isn’t great. Fake reviews might be the only way you could ever get above a 2.5-star rating. Should you risk it?

What the FTC Thinks About Fake Reviews

If you were to choose your relationship with the FTC, you’d probably go with the “never the twain shall meet” variety. So, it might disturb you to hear that the FTC can and will issue fines against businesses caught using fake reviews.

Section 5 of the FTC Act 15 U.S. Code § 45 makes fake testimonials illegal. The FTC considers your review to be fake if it is not based on the experience of a real customer. A fake review is seen as deceptive advertising as it may mislead the customer, encouraging them to purchase a product or use a service under false pretenses.

If you are caught, every single one of your violations is subject to a $10,000 fine. Will you get caught? We’re guessing that most companies get away with it, but the FTC has been known to go after both big and small websites.

The FTC released a guide on how to follow its rules for online reviews, endorsements, and testimonials. The guide reiterates that the review must be made by a real customer and based on a real experience with your company, but it gives a little leeway for offering the reviewer an incentive. As long as the review clearly shows that the customer was influenced by money, publicity, or a gift, you are allowed to post those reviews. Keep in mind that free trials count as a gift, as do gift cards and giveaways, and so reviews created by customers thusly incentivized must say so in a disclaimer.

Keep in mind, though, that while the FTC is okay with you incentivizing a customer to leave a review if you include a disclaimer, this will get you banned by most review platforms. So, this practice should be used only for reviews posted to your own site.

(Video) Beware of Fake Reviewers! ⚠️

Are Fake Reviews Illegal? | Lendza (2)

What if Someone Posts a Fake Review About You?

Just because you’re following the rules doesn’t mean your competitors will do the same. As hard is it is to watch them get ahead breaking rules you choose to follow, it only gets worse when they start posting fake, negative reviews about your company.

A recent New York Post article outlined a scary incident where an Amazon merchant saw his sales plummet from 450 units a day down to just 150. It all started when a few negative reviews reached the front page of his Amazon product. Even though most of the reviews were positive, the negative ones had received enough upvotes to outrank the others.

Customers scrolled down to the reviews, saw the bad ones first and didn’t bother to keep scrolling.

Suspiciously, the man was contacted by a “list optimization” vendor who offered to help clean up the review page by generating upvotes for the positive reviews. When the man turned down the service, the negative votes rapidly increased, nearly doubling within a day. The vendor contacted the man again, saying the price to fix the review page had doubled. The vendor admitted that one of the Amazon seller’s competitors had hired him, but that he would be happy to turn against the competitor if the price was right.

The seller contacted Amazon and reported the incident, but Amazon was unwilling to fix the problem.

Negative reviews are as much of a commodity as the positive ones. Chances are your competitors will use them against you, and there’s not much you can do about it unless you can prove that a review is fake (and that’s tough). Yelp, Google My Business, TrustPilot, and other review sites will not take a review down unless they are sure it was put up in bad faith.

As the New York Post example shows, the issue is even more complicated thanks to users’ ability to upvote negative reviews. You can’t please everyone, so chances are your product will receive at least a few genuine negative reviews. If your competitors upvote those to give them more prominence than your positive reviews, they may successfully scare away your customers.

Are Fake Reviews Illegal? | Lendza (3)

Are Fake Upvotes Illegal?

The word “upvote” is not used a single time in the FTC Act 15 U.S. Code § 45. I did not see the words “website,” “online,” or “Internet” anywhere in the text, either. While this law can and has been applied to the use of testimonials and endorsements in online advertising, you shouldn’t expect it to clearly tell you what you can and cannot do in online marketing. Keep in mind that chapter one of the code came out in 1890, long before digital reviews existed. While the text has been updated and added to over the years, it does not cover the inner-complexities of online review grading.

As far as we know, there has not been an FTC case against a company for falsely generating upvotes.

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While initiating a fake upvote campaign is likely just as illegal as creating fake reviews, it is much harder to prove. That may be one reason why there does not seem to be any active policing of it going on at the FTC.

Google SEO and Fake Reviews

SEO experts say that having testimonials on your website will send positive signals to Google, which may result in an improvement of your search rankings. However, Google has also been known to punish sites for fake testimonials. How does Google know which ones are fake? Some have guessed that it looks for patterns that would suggest the reviews have the same author. It also may search for common phrases used by fake reviewers in general.

Companies can and do get rich by fooling Google. However, these days it’s nearly impossible. It’s better to learn how Google’s brain works and try to get there honestly.

Final Thoughts

For a brief moment, the Internet provided a level playing ground for small businesses. Anyone could compete with the big guys. All it took was a great product and a few customers willing to review it. Fake reviews and fake upvotes may have tilted the market back in favor of the big guys.

Before you fight fire with fire and wage a review war of your own, keep in mind the genuine risk of getting caught.

Mike Abelson Editorial Director

Mike is the Editorial Director at Lendza. He enjoys helping entrepreneurs and startups succeed through smart, innovative strategies. He’s partnered with CEOs and executives to grow businesses from the ground up. Before his work at Lendza, Mike was a stock market analyst. When he’s not traveling for work, he enjoys reading adventure and science fiction novels.

(Video) Why Amazon Has A Fake Review Problem


Can you get in trouble for fake reviews? ›

Is It Illegal to Write a Fake Review? Fake reviews are a violation of the terms of service of all business review sites. This means that any attempt to manipulate your brand reputation — or harm that of your competitors — through fake reviews can result in legal action against you.

Should you respond to fake reviews? ›

Respond to the customer review.

Regardless if the review is fake or real, you should respond to all of your customer reviews. Not only will you have some time before Google processes your request, but you can also showcase your excellent customer service skills by proactively reaching out to the customer.

Should I respond to a fake Google review? ›

Reputation management on Google is an ongoing process. You should never just respond to bad reviews. You should make a point to respond to every review, whether good or bad, at all times, when appropriate. Even in the cases where nothing was said, but someone left you stars--respond.

Can Google ban you for fake reviews? ›

Fake reviews are a violation of Google's guidelines and if you're caught doing it you can potentially lose all of your Rich Results, have your pages removed from the search results, or even be banned from Google completely.

What is the punishment for fake reviews? ›

The BIS norms on fake reviews, as of now, are voluntary in nature. According to the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, penalty on e-commerce entities for posting fake reviews of products and giving inflated ratings would be imposed, and the penalty amount could range from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.

Can I be sued for an online review? ›

A business can sue if an online review is untruthful, libelous, slanderous, defames character, intentionally interferes with business expectancy, violates privacy rights or breaches a contract. A lawsuit is not usually the preferred course of action when dealing with negative reviews.

How do you respond to an untrue review? ›

Always apologize and thank the consumer for their feedback.
  1. Keep responses appropriate and never place blame or argue. ...
  2. Invite the unsatisfied reviewer to continue the conversation offline. ...
  3. Politely bring attention to fraudulent reviews with facts. ...
  4. Ask the reviewer to delete the fraudulent review.

How common are fake reviews? ›

It's hard to know exactly how many online reviews are phony, but roughly 31% of reviews found on ecommerce sites like Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy are suspected fakes, according to one 2021 analysis. That means that any star rating is likely to be skewed.

How do you respond to an unfair review? ›

How to respond to bad reviews
  1. Respond in a timely manner. ...
  2. Stay professional and courteous. ...
  3. Understand your customer's experience with your business before responding. ...
  4. Apologize when appropriate but don't take responsibility for things that weren't your fault. ...
  5. Offer to talk it over.

What percentage of Google reviews are fake? ›

With fake reviews increasing across all platforms, nearly seven in ten consumers now say authenticity is a growing problem. Not surprisingly, the largest platform, Google, reported the greatest percentage (10.7%) of fake reviews. Next, by percentage, were Yelp (7.1%), Tripadvisor (5.2%) and Facebook (4.9%).

How long does it take Google to take down a fake review? ›

If Google finds that the review violates their policies, the review will be deleted within three days. If you don't have any luck on the first attempt, you can escalate the issue and contact Google My Business directly.

How do you respond to lying in a Google review? ›

What to say
  1. Be Short. This is important for any public communications. ...
  2. Be professional - no matter what the review is like. The angrier the review, the more important it is for you to remain above the fray. ...
  3. Consider paying them back. ...
  4. Apologize. ...
  5. Leave your contact details.

Do businesses pay for fake Google reviews? ›

Buying Google reviews is against Google's policy and is illegal according to rules set by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Do companies post fake reviews? ›

Fake reviews are all over the internet and have become a big industry meant to fool consumers.

Does Google tell who reported a review? ›

Does Google tell who reported a review? There's a common misconception that Google tells businesses who reported their reviews. This is not the case! Google does not share this information with business owners for privacy reasons.

Is bribing for reviews illegal? ›

First, it is illegal to buy Google reviews according to The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Is review manipulation illegal? ›

The answer is that yes, posting fake reviews is illegal. The FTC goes after companies for it.

How do I write a review without getting sued? ›

A person can post a review of someone even if it is negative in nature without committing the tort of defamation. Truth is an absolute defense to this type of legal cause of action. Additionally, a person can provide an opinion about an experience that he or she had so long as it not based on a fact that is untrue.

Is it illegal to post fake reviews online? ›

“Companies should know by now that fake reviews are illegal, but this scourge persists,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Can Google remove negative reviews? ›

Google can remove reviews that violate Google's policies. Important: Before you ask to remove or delete a review, read our reviews policy.
Understand which reviews to report for removal
  • Report only reviews that violate Google policies. ...
  • Don't report a review just because you disagree with it or don't like it.

Why do people fake reviews? ›

Businesses put trust and effort into fake reviews for two reasons: They have a negative online reputation that they are trying to hide. They have no online reputation and need to get the conversation going.

Can a business owner remove Google reviews? ›

To ask Google to remove or delete an inappropriate review from your Business Profile, report the review. Google can remove reviews that violate Google's policies. Important: Before you ask to remove or delete a review, read our reviews policy.

How many reports does it take for Google to remove a review? ›

But do the number of flags make an impact on Google's final decision to take down the review? The answer is no. Google reviews are removed even when just one person flags them and brings it to their attention.

Can doctors delete Google reviews? ›

Just because doctors have a specific legal and ethical obligations that govern what information can be made public, does not mean that providers should accept fake reviews. Fake reviews, whether they're about a doctor or another business professional, can be removed from the Internet.

How fake reviews affect business? ›

This can prevent them from making a purchase and have a significantly negative impact on your revenue.
Consumer trust is affected by fake reviews
  • 81% will avoid using that brand again.
  • 48% leave a negative review.
  • 25% wouldn't purchase from the website.
  • 16% will post [negatively] about the brand on social media.
Nov 14, 2022

Do people pay for good reviews? ›

Technically, you can pay for positive reviews — but we strongly recommend that you don't, since you could be breaking the law. Neither does Google, Yelp, or Facebook, or, for that matter, the Federal Trade Commission, which “put hundreds of businesses on notice about fake reviews and…

What violates a Google review? ›

Only post content that is based on your experience or questions about experiences at a specific location. We don't allow content which contains general, political, or social commentary or personal rants.

Can Google reviews get flagged? ›

In some cases, you can. If a review that has been written about your company on Google is inappropriate or inaccurate, you can flag the review for possible removal. It's worth noting that Google's policy does not allow businesses to flag reviews they don't agree with or delete reviews simply because they are negative.

Are Google reviews slander? ›

Well, it depends on whether the review constitutes defamation or if it is just a negative review. Defamatory reviews are legally actionable, whereas bad reviews are not.

Should I respond negative online reviews? ›

Not only does responding to negative reviews improve your reputation to consumers, but it also shows negative reviewers that you're willing to resolve their issues and earn back their business.

Is it good to respond to negative reviews? ›

While it may be tempting to ignore the negative reviews and focus on the positive, responding to these reviews leaves a better overall impression of your business. And, if you do it right, you might even get the opportunity to bring back a disgruntled customer and build their loyalty.

Should you respond to negative Facebook reviews? ›

In most cases, it's best to respond. When you do respond to a bad review, do so promptly. Another good tip is to make your review brief but personalized to the reviewer's experience.

Should I reply to my reviews? ›

Reviews from your customers can provide valuable feedback for your business. You can reply to reviews, which can help build customer trust. When you reply to reviews, you post publicly as your business. Replies may not appear across Google immediately.

Why you shouldn't delete negative reviews? ›

Deleting bad product reviews reduces the integrity of all published product reviews, and consumers might suspect that they only see the good stuff said about your brand. Leaving negative reviews up doesn't necessarily hurt your brand, especially when the review is worded in a polite manner.

Can negative reviews be deleted? ›

To ask Google to remove or delete an inappropriate review from your Business Profile, report the review. Google can remove reviews that violate Google's policies. Important: Before you ask to remove or delete a review, read our reviews policy.

Should I delete my negative review? ›

Don't remove negative feedback. Listen to what your customers are telling you, and help them solve their problem. Apologise, vow to do better, and turn their bad experience into a good one by offering different solutions and options. Turning a negative into a positive isn't that difficult after all.

How do you respond to a fake negative review example? ›

Example Review Response 2: “Thank you for leaving a rating. We're sorry to hear you had a poor experience. Please contact us at 555-555-5555 to offer further details, so we can address your concerns and do our best to help resolve them. Thank you.”

How can a customer remove a negative review? ›

Instead, there are only two ways that a review can be removed. The person who posted the review can delete it or your business can "flag the review as inappropriate." Flagging the review alerts Google that the review is fake or that it doesn't comply with Google's review policies.

When not to respond to negative comments? ›

Set boundaries and don't reply if they try to start an argument. Focus on solutions to problems and don't dwell on negativity or give other people attention for being negative. Most often, these types of people will move on to bothering someone else.

Will Facebook remove fake reviews? ›

No spam filter service is perfect, which means you have to know how to remove reviews from Facebook. Unfortunately, there is no direct way of doing that. Instead, you need to flag them as spam. Facebook will review and take down the offending review if it violates their community standards.

How do you remove an unfair review on Facebook? ›

Request that the Review Be Removed

If you believe that a review is fake, you also have the option of reporting it to Facebook. On your business page's “Reviews” tab, click the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the review you want to report. Then choose “Report Post.”

Can a business remove a negative Facebook review? ›

On Facebook, page owners cannot remove individual reviews themselves. However, users can flag a review to notify Facebook's team to remove the reviews. But, users can only flag a review if it has at least one comment on it.

Do reviews really matter? ›

Build trust.

Reading dozens of reviews that indicate good quality and services create an online reputation that customers can trust. In fact, customers are 63% more likely to trust and buy from a company with reviews.

Should I reply to 5 star reviews? ›

A 5-star rating is always a good thing, even if it's unaccompanied by an actual review. Replying to 5-star reviews shows that you care. Samples of how to reply to customer positive feedback: “Thanks for sharing your rating with us and the community.”


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