A landmark legal ruling in Italy has seen a fraudulent online reviewer sentenced to jail, in one of the first cases of its kind.
The owner of PromoSalento, a company which sells fake review packages to hospitality businesses in Italy, was sentenced to nine months in prison after the Criminal Court of Lecce ruled that writing fraudulent reviews under a false identity was “criminal conduct”.
The defendant was also ordered to pay €8,000 in costs and damages.
It’s one of the first cases of paid review fraud, which is the act of selling fake reviews to business owners, to result in a criminal conviction.
TripAdvisor supported the prosecution as a civil claimant, providing evidence from its in-house fraud investigations team.
The leading online review platform uses tracking technology and has a dedicated team of investigators to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on the site.
“We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet,” said Brad Young, VP, associate general counsel at TripAdvisor. “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.
“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.”
TripAdvisor has advised anyone approached by companies or individuals offering fake reviews to refrain from engaging with them and to share the information with TripAdvisor directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pascal Lamy, chairman of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, said: “Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules.
“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.”
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