Everyone knows how important it is to collect positive customer reviews for your business, but what happens when you fall victim to fraudulent reviews? We asked the same question, and many more when our Google My Business page was attacked with an influx of fake, one-star reviews.
Given the prominent visibility that these reviews have, it fast became a priority to get them removed. The ordeal of getting these recognised as fraud and removed from listings was a tedious one, resulting in lost business hours (and sleep). So we’ve decided to compile a list of useful information that we wish we’d had at the time, in the hopes of saving other businesses time and worry in the future.
Fact or Fraud?
Even though we all strive to provide an excellent user experience for everyone, people will occasionally be dissatisfied with the service they received.As much as you may disagree with their sentiment, an unhappy customer is perfectly within their rights to express their view.
But how do you tell the difference between a genuine customer and a fraudulent review?
Names are the name of the game
A good place to start is with the name that the review is posted under. Sometimes it may be an obviously fake name (Mr. I.P. Freely is unlikely to be real), or it could be a convincing name but not someone you have ever worked with.
If you have a contact book or customer database, check to see if the names of the reviewers are people you have worked with or sold to. In our case, we work closely with all our clients and know them by name, so it was easy to recognise which ones were fake.
Two is a crowd
Check the post time and how quickly they were posted in succession if there are multiple suspect reviews (we had nearly 50). Fraudulent reviews will often be posted within minutes of each other. The fake reviews we received came through in bursts of 10, every few hours. It’s unlikely that all of your customers are having a bad review party and posting them together, and it’s much more likely that they came from the same source.
Content or none...tent
Fraudulent reviewers often won’t leave a comment with their one-star rating. Those that do have comments will often be vague enough that they could be written about anyone, for example, “Do not Trust” or “Bad service”.
Usually, if you have a genuine complaint, they’ll tell you why they weren’t happy.
Dive a little deeper
Diving a little deeper into the accounts responsible can reveal more evidence that your reviews may be fake. It’s not unusual for a fraudulent account to have been made specifically for you, and so they’ll often be brand new and have no other user history.
It could also be the case that they have exclusively left one-star reviews for many other businesses too. In this case it is also likely that each of the accounts have all corresponding reviews of the same places.
If you believe your reviews to be fraudulent, the most important thing is getting them removed. Google provides the ability to report comments for a variety of reasons, including posting under a fake name and writing about a false experience; both of these are directly against Google’s user agreement. If the comments are violent or abusive, flag them as such, and they’ll likely be removed quite quickly; if not, then flag them as a conflict of interest, as they are not a genuine reflection of your business.
Unfortunately, just flagging the reviews is unlikely to get them all removed in a timely fashion, so the next step is to get in touch with Google directly. Hidden within the My Business menus, there is a submission form to open a case against the fake reviews. Once submitted, you will receive a phone call from one of their advisors.
Before you submit the form, make sure you have flagged all of the suspected reviews. With a phone call and a bit of explanation on your part, you should be able to have a case opened to investigate the origin and validity of the reviews. This can take up to 3 days for any of the reviews to be removed, and in our case, only about half were taken down. If this is the case for you as well, you should have received a contact email from the person managing your case at Google, and you can email them screenshots of the remaining reviews.
While waiting for Google to review your case, it’s worth getting ahead of the news and making some social media posts explaining the situation. The most important thing here is to remain professional and not direct any blame or anger. Try to make light of the situation and show that you are taking it all in stride, while still addressing the seriousness of the issue.
This will also allow you to make the most of a bad situation as the post can be used as a sort of rally cry. Asking your genuine users to leave reviews of their real experiences to help offset the fake ones will stop your overall rating from plummeting and put you in better standing when the fraudulent reviews are removed. It can also help to ask your followers to help with flagging the reviews, as that could help them be removed more quickly.
Here’s what we posted…
Let’s split up and search for clues…
To help get them removed, and for your own sanity, it may be worth doing a bit more digging to see if you can figure out who is responsible. Have another look at the spam accounts that left the reviews, and see if there are any patterns.
If the account histories all show a negative review for your business but five-star ones for a competitor, then it could be something shady going on.
If some of the fraudulent accounts have left negative reviews for other businesses, have a look through those reviews and see if you recognise any names. This is how we discovered our culprit; a former acquaintance had left reviews under their own name for all of the other businesses attacked by the fake accounts.
It’s worth remembering that this kind of evidence is purely circumstantial, and not necessarily pointing to the right person. Avoid blaming anyone publicly or fueling any kind of witch-hunt.
If you think you know who is responsible for your fake reviews, there are a few more steps you could take:
Contact a solicitor for advice. Depending on the content and nature of the reviews, you may have some legal discussion. Often a cease and desist letter threatening legal action will be enough to dissuade the spammer without costing too much in time or money.
If there is a threatening nature to the comments, or you have a personal history with the person you believe to be responsible, contact your local police. In our case, the person who created the fake accounts had a history of harassing one of our employees.Similar to a cease and desist letter, a caution from the police will often be enough to deter the individual.
Escalate your case with Google. If fake reviews keep coming through and haven’t been removed after 3 days, get back in touch with Google and see if they’ll escalate your case. They may be able to block the IP address responsible and take a second look at the remaining reviews.
There’s no doubt about this issue being a stressful and difficult problem to deal with, but try to remain positive and make the most of a bad situation. By the end of our ordeal, all but one of the fake reviews were removed, and we had gained 18 additional genuine reviews from satisfied clients in response to the problem. This left us with an almost-perfect 4.8 score, which while no longer a flawless 5, does, according to some studies, appear more genuine and trust-worthy to potential buyers.
If you are having the same problem, be sure to seek the advice of professionals. They’re sure to know much more than a blog post you read on the internet.