Italian man jailed for fake TripAdvisor reviews

Irving Hamilton
September 13, 2018

Italian law prohibits writing fake reviews while using a false identity.

An Italian man has been jailed for nine months and ordered to pay €8000 (NZ$14,177) after offering glowing reviews on TripAdvisor for cash.

The tech company shared evidence through its own in-house fraud investigations during the case.

In a statement, TripAdvisor, which has been repeatedly criticised by pub operators in the United Kingdom for not cracking down on unfair reviews, said it supported the conviction.

The owner of Promo Salento, a company which sold fraudulent listings to business owners' to help them boost their profiles on the site, was sentenced to nine months by an Italian court.

Using digital forensics, they were able to block or remove more than 1000 attempts by PromoSalento to submit fake reviews for hundreds of different businesses - despite the company frequently changing usernames and email addresses to avoid being caught.

"We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet", TripAdvisor said.

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This is the first time a paid-review fraud has resulted in a jail sentence, although in many jurisdictions deliberately misleading consumers through unfair or misleading marketing can lead to fines or the companies being shut down.

"This is the first time we have seen the laws being enforced to the point of securing a criminal conviction".

Pascal Lamy, the chairman of the world committee on tourism ethics at the UN World Tourism Organisation, added: 'Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it's important everyone plays by the rules.

Recent figures from TripAdvisor show the site has more than 500 million reviews and opinions of seven million properties, restaurants and attractions.

And the online review site says it is working with the UK's Competition and Markets Authority as well as the US Federal Trade Commission to share information and support its efforts to tackle online fake reviews.

'Fake reviews clearly contravene the World Committee on Tourism Ethics guidelines, which we published previous year to guide the responsible use of ratings and reviews on digital platforms.

TripAdvisor said it believes some businesses paid for fake reviews and were subsequently hit with penalties that lowered their all-important popularity rankings.

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