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Business Owner Gets Nine Months in Jail for Writing Fake TripAdvisor Reviews

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2018-09-12 Bridget Hallinan
a close up of a logo: TripAdvisor has officially had enough. © Illustration by Brown Bird Design TripAdvisor has officially had enough.

We all suspect there are fake hotel reviews out there on the internet—but now someone's going to prison for it. A reviewer was convicted of writing positive reviews in exchange for money , and received a nine-month jail sentence as a result, reports Skift. This is the first time in history someone has been sent to prison for falsifying reviews—and with the added penalty of an €8,000 (about $9,300) fine, it's safe to say TripAdvisor isn't messing around.

"We invest a lot in fraud prevention and we're 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," Brad Young, vice president and associate general counsel at TripAdvisor, said in a press release.

The fraudulent reviewer was the owner of PromoSalento, an Italian tourism company. TripAdvisor learned about their operation in 2015, after a few of the participating businesses came forward and handed over emails between themselves and PromoSalento, according to a TripAdvisor Insights article—overall, they estimate PromoSalento tried to bolster ratings for hundreds of businesses. TripAdvisor then took down reviews from PromoSalento, and businesses who used the fake endorsements received a blow to their ranking (or, if they kept using sketchy reviews, a "red badge" on their profile). Flash forward to today, and the Criminal Court of Lecce (a city in Puglia) officially ruled that "writing fake reviews using a false identity is criminal conduct under Italian criminal law," per the release.

This isn't the first time TripAdvisor has dealt with this issue, nor the first time in Italy. Back in 2014, the company was fined €500,000 (about $581,311) for "not doing enough to prevent false reviews" by the Italian Competition Authority. That's not going to be the case anymore: Going forward, the company plans to work with the FTC and other global regulatory authorities to start cracking down on fake reviews.

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