The criminal court of Lecce, Puglia, ruled that writing fake reviews using a false identity is criminal conduct under the Italian criminal law.
PromoSalento’s owner has been handed a nine-month prison sentence and told to pay thousands of pounds in costs and damages for selling fake review packages to hospitality businesses in Italy.
This is one of the first times paid review fraud – when companies or individuals sell fake reviews to business owners – has resulted in a criminal conviction.
In a statement, TripAdvisor, which has been repeatedly criticised by pub operators in the UK for not cracking down on unfair reviews, said it supported the conviction.
Criticised by pub operators
The tech company shared evidence through its own in-house fraud investigations during the case.
“TripAdvisor welcomes the opportunity to work with enforcement authorities, including the UK Competition and Markets Authority and the US Federal Trade Commission, to share information and support their efforts to tackle online fake reviews,” the statement read.
- Operators recently described themselves as being ‘at the mercy of TripAdvisor’ in this The Morning Advertiser investigation
TripAdvisor also said it takes review fraud “extremely seriously” and uses advanced tracking technology, as well as a team of investigators, to catch paid review companies and prevent them from using the site.
The firm’s vice-president associate general counsel Brad Young said: “We see this 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.
“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.”
Young continued: “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.”
Chairman of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics Pascal Lamy said: “Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules.
'Must be able to trust review'
“Fake reviews clearly contravene the World Committee on Tourism Ethics guidelines, which we published last year to guide the responsible use of ratings and reviews on digital platforms.
“The recommendations were developed in collaboration with TripAdvisor, Minube and Yelp, and we know that industry collaboration has an important role to play in tackling review fraud.”
A CMA Spokesperson said: “People must be able to trust the reviews they read online- they can significantly influence buying decisions, so it’s important they are genuine.
“The CMA has taken a number of enforcement cases in this area– including action to tackle fake reviews.
“We will continue to work closely with other enforcement agencies and use any information provided from the public or businesses such as TripAdvisor to inform our work in the future.”