Are fake reviews really illegal?

You’re shopping online; you find just the right product at the right price, and the reviews are almost too good to be true! You’ve been persuaded to part with your hard-earned cash, but how can you know for sure if these reviews are real or fake?

Unfortunately, all it takes is a quick Google search to find somewhere to buy fake reviews. Anyone can create an account and leave a review on open platforms such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, making it easy for scammers to write and post fake ratings and reviews, and extremely difficult for consumers to decipher which ones are genuine.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates that £23 billion of consumer purchases a year are influenced by online reviews, making fake reviews a serious issue.

Our own research shows that 72% of consumers are worried about fake reviews. So, while writing or commissioning fake reviews (also known as astroturfing) is obviously unethical, is it actually illegal in the UK?

Fake reviews are damaging, but are they illegal?

In terms of the question ‘Are fake reviews illegal?’, the short answer is ‘yes’. Although posting a fake review, or failing to include negative reviews, may not seem like a big deal, purposefully misleading your customers could place you in violation of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, as well as advertising codes.

Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, businesses cannot conduct misleading actions or omissions which are likely to cause a consumer to make a different decision – this may include faking reviews or preventing customers from leaving genuine negative reviews.

Not only is it illegal to post fake positive reviews about your business, it’s also illegal to post damaging fake reviews about another business, such as a competitor. Trying to sabotage another business like this could leave your business open to being sued for malicious falsehood.

Are fake reviews that common?

Unfortunately, yes. Trustpilot recently revealed they removed 2.2 million fake reviews from their open platform in 2020. 96% of consumers use reviews when shopping online, so customer feedback has become an important part of the purchase process. Sites like Amazon even reward products with consistently high reviews by awarding them an ‘Amazon Choice’ badge. With a system like that in place, it’s easy to see why unscrupulous sellers would be keen to purchase fake reviews. Which? recently found ten websites selling fake Amazon reviews at just £5 apiece!

Why do businesses buy fake feedback? Find out why here.

How can I remove fake reviews?

The good news is that the laws around fake reviews don’t just apply to businesses; consumers can also be held to account. If you find yourself under fire from unjust feedback (such as a defamatory review from a competitor), here are a few things you can do:

  • Get solid proof – to get any review removed or to take legal action, you will need to be able to prove that the feedback is false – check out how to spot a fake review, here.
  • Contact the review platform to see if the review can be removed
  • If the fake review has been left on your Google ‘My Business’ page, then you can report this through Google’s own interface; however, you’ll need to prove that the review wasn’t left by a genuine customer
  • It is possible to sue an individual for leaving a fake review, but you must contact a solicitor and have solid proof that the allegations are false and that you have lost business as a direct result, before you can take it to court

How can I make sure my business doesn’t fall victim to fake reviews?

Unfortunately fake reviews have become part and parcel of the industry as open review platforms allow anybody that makes an account to leave feedback. Now that you’re aware of the problem however, there’s plenty you can do to mitigate the impact fake reviews have on your business’ reputation.

  • Use a trusted reviews platform to collect feedback! Ensure you use a provider that doesn’t allow just anybody to leave you a review. That way you can make sure that your rating is a true reflection of your service, as you know it’s only genuine customers who have left you feedback.
  • Make monitoring and managing your digital presence business as usual – especially your Google My Business page, as this will often be one of the first places customers research your business.
  • Respond to feedback wherever possible, both good and bad. The more you’re seen to be publicly responding, resolving and challenging potentially fake reviews, the more transparent and trustworthy your business will appear to potential customers.

Download our how to spot fake reviews checklist

Suspect your business may be suffering from an influx of fake feedback? Download our handy checklist to easily identify whether the reviews your receiving across the web are genuine or not.

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