Doing business in today’s marketplace means promoting your products and services online. An upside: the Internet affords many marketing opportunities. A downside: anyone with an Internet connection can write a bad – and fake – review about your company, product or service. Which raises the questions:
- Are fake and paid reviews legal?
- Can you sue over a fake or paid review that hurts your business?
The FTC’s Stance on Paid and Fake Reviews
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the government’s “consumer watchdog.” In short, the FTC’s mission is to rid the marketplace of “unfair and deceptive marketing” — and it has the authority to both fine and shut down operations.
According to the FTC, online endorsements and testimonials can’t be purposely misleading, plus any relationship or connection between a company and reviewer must be disclosed. Additionally, paid reviewers and endorsers can’t publish fake or unfounded claims.
The FTC takes this seriously. If a business is engaging in fake testimonials or paying people to post misleading reviews, commissioners have the legal authority to impart hefty fines or even shut down a business, as a result.
Review Websites' Stance on Paid and Fake Reviews
Major consumer websites like Yelp! and Amazon.com depend on user-generated content and reviews. And in order for these sites to retain an air of credibility, they do make efforts to crack down on paid and fake reviews. In some cases, however, if you can provide ample evidence that a particular review is fraudulent, Yelp and Amazon staffers will simply remove it. The operative phrase being “ample evidence.” After all, consumer websites are not in the business of removing legitimate – albeit negative – reviews.
Legal Options If You’re The Victim of a Paid or Fake Review
We’ve established that undisclosed paid or fake reviews are illegal. So, what are your legal options if you’re the target? As discussed above, if you have evidence that a bad review is the handy work of a competitor or troll, contact the website, present your evidence, and ask that it be removed. If that doesn’t work, contact an attorney that specializes in online review law. An attorney can assess the situation to determine if you have a legitimate claim for:
- Product Disparagement,
- Trade Libel,
- False Light,
- Tortious Interference, or
- Unfair Competition.
In the simplest terms, posting fake reviews online is against the law. An individual cannot be paid to post a review, even if it is the truth unless the paid endorsement is clearly stated and understood. Reviews must be based on authentic, real life experiences.