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That fake TripAdvisor review could get you thrown in prison —in Italy, at least

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 9/12/2018 By Andy Rosen

© Reuters If you’re considering leaving a fake review on an online shopping site, here’s a new reason to think twice: It could get you thrown in prison. In Italy, at least.

Needham-based TripAdvisor on Wednesday said a user in Italy was sentenced to nine months behind bars after being accused of selling fake reviews to hospitality businesses there.

The online travel giant heralded the decision by the Criminal Court of Lecce as a “landmark ruling for the Internet.”

“Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result,” the company’s associate general counsel Brad Young said in a statement.

Internet commerce sites have long struggled with the bane of paid reviews, which erode the trust of users who rely on their fellow customers to help them decide what to buy, whom to hire, and where to travel.

A Washington Post examination this year, for example, found that a majority of Amazon reviews in popular categories such as Bluetooth speakers appear to violate the company’s prohibition on paid reviews.

For its part, TripAdvisor said it has found and stopped more than 60 fake review companies since 2015.

In this case, the company said, its fraud detection programs blocked or removed more than 1,000 reviews at hundreds of properties by the owner of a company called PromoSalento. The company worked with postal police in Italy on the case, which resulted in PromoSalento’s owner facing jail time and penalty of about 8,000 euros in costs and damages.

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