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Big fines for fake online posts

Reported by Maria Bekiaris
Thursday, February 6, 2014
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Maria Bekiaris Money magazine, February edition

Regulator to crack down online deception

If you’re anything like me when you’re shopping for a fridge or comparing hotels, you’ll take a look at online reviews before making a purchase. The question is, can you trust these reviews? Unfortunately, not all of them will be legitimate. There has been an increase in paid and fake reviews – also known as “astroturfing” – so the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is cracking down.

“Fake online reviews mislead consumers and hurt Australian businesses – businesses that pay for or post fake reviews can gain an unfair advantage or damage their rivals,” says Michael Schaper, the ACCC deputy chair. The ACCC has released guidelines about online reviews with three core principles for businesses:

• Be transparent about commercial relationships.

• Don’t post or publish misleading reviews.

• Remember that omitting negative reviews can be as misleading as posting positive reviews.

The ACCC will monitor online reviews and penalties of up to $1.1 million can apply for misleading and deceptive conduct.

So how can you spot a fake review? It won’t necessarily be easy but here are a few things to look out for:

• Check the dates. If there is a significant “spike” in reviews about a particular business over a limited time, this may be a telltale sign, says the ACCC.

• There is a similar user name or email address that could be an indication of a fake review.

• A review that is overly positive or uses “marketing speak” writing styles is a concern.

• Beware reviews that appear to be submitted by different people but are suspiciously similar in tone and style, says the consumer group Choice. • Not all fake reviews will be positive. Some businesses will get negative reviews written about their competitors. “A one star review for a five star hotel should be regarded with suspicion,” says Choice.

• You may consider doing a background check of the reviewer to see if they have recommended anything else and what their post history is like. If they have only one review or all their reviews are overwhelmingly positive, you may want to think twice about trusting what they have to say.

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02/09/2014 23:59Sydney, Australia. 2 September,2014
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