Action News Troubleshooters: Bogus online reviews

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Troubleshooters: Bogus online reviews: Nydia Han reports on Action News at 11 p.m., April 30, 2018 (WPVI)

Consumers put a lot of trust in online reviews. They believe real people are providing the real scoop on products and businesses. But beware! Many reviews may not be as reliable as you think.

Online reviews can provide helpful insight unless they're bogus, paid for by companies to make themselves look good - or make a rival business look bad.

Jason Brown exposes fake online reviews on his website, www.Reviewfraud.org.

"They are definitely taking advantage of the customers," said Brown.

Brown says bogus reviews are a big problem.

"I mean I just turned over a file two weeks ago of 26,000 fake reviews," he said.

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How easy is it to purchase reviews? The Troubleshooters decided to find out.



The Troubleshooters investigated Google reviews for local businesses.

Rose Dell gives Bill Frusco Plumbing in Philadelphia 5 stars, writing, "... came out to my house to fix my hot water tank... did a marvelous job."

What's odd is that same month, Rose Dell also gave a glowing review for a plumbing company in Houston, Texas, for a similar job.

And aside from dealing with hot water issues, the reviewer Rose Dell apparently works out.

She's also written a 5-star review for Philadelphia Personal Trainers, owned by Phil Nicolaou.

And a few of Nicolaou's gushy Philadelphia clients really get around.

According to these other Google reviews they've posted, clients Nicholas Bradley, Fabient Toti, and Lori Mastro have all been bailed out of jail by the same bail bond company in San Diego.

Lori Mastro and two of Nicolaou's other customers have also given glowing reviews for the same psychic in Canada.

"Then they shouldn't be on my website," said Nicolaou. "They really shouldn't, so I am going to take them off."

Nicolaou and plumber Bill Frusco deny knowing anything about the suspicious reviews until we brought them to their attention.

Nicolaou tells Action News he believes those reviews were posted or paid for - unbeknownst to him - by a third-party company he hired to help market his business.

He tells us "he would never intentionally mislead clients" and that even though he complained to Google it will not remove those reviews.

Gerry Peterson of Petersen Pressure Wash in Berlin, New Jersey, is aware of how bogus reviews can impact a business negatively, too.

"One-star review, after another, after another," he said. "It was over 200 reviews in a matter of minutes."

Allegedly unhappy customers posting negative reviews from countries around the world, including France, Bangladesh, and India.

Nydia asked him if he had customers in those countries.

"No, my pressure washer hose doesn't go that long," said Peterson, laughing. "I have only 200 feet. I can't get there."

Petersen thought his business was doomed.

"Even though it was only a couple days, I had no calls," he said.

Petersen asked us for help and says only after the Troubleshooters contacted Facebook did those 1-star fake reviews finally disappear.

"I was extremely excited and I actually got a good night's sleep," he said.

Peterson suspects a rival business paid to have those negative reviews put on his page.

Websites that claim to spot bogus reviews:
*www.Fakespot.com is a free website that analyzes reviews for reliability. Just copy and paste the link, then click Analyze.
*www.Reviewmeta.com also investigates product reviews. It's also free.
*http://reviewfraud.org/ - Calls out reviewers and reviews it believes to be fake.

Tips to spot bogus reviews:
*Click on the reviewer's profile. Be suspicious if they review multiple businesses in multiple states, especially if it's unlikely they would use all those businesses in different states at the same time. You can also right click on the image and do a reverse internet search. That search will tell you if the person is real or if it's a stock photo or something else.
*If the reviewer is in a foreign country and unlikely to use the local business he/she is reviewing, that's a red flag, too.
*Also remember some review websites are fake. Some have been set up by the companies being reviewed. So if you're going to check out reviews, best to go to a known site you trust.

Phil Nicolaou, the owner of Philadelphia Personal Trainer, issued the following statement in response to this report:

"In an effort to improve my online presence, I contracted with a third-party vendor based in San Diego. It was my belief that this individual would contact my past clients to post reviews. That turned out not to be true. When 6 ABC informed me that there may be fake google reviews about my business, I immediately took steps to address the issue. I contacted Google to remove the faulty reviews, but was very frustrated when they informed me that they could not be removed because the individuals had not violated any of Google's terms of service. I take the reputation of my business very seriously and never would have intentionally tried to mislead prospective clients. I wish there was an easier mechanism to remove reviews that I know are not legitimate."

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