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What to do when you receive fake reviews online

Online reviews have become an important part of business. They help consumers get first-hand information on businesses and make informed decisions on which ones to patronize. From restaurants and retail establishments to attorneys and professional service providers, we can be both positively and negatively affected by reviews.

This, for better or worse, puts the power in the hands of consumers. With most platforms that allow reviews, it’s usually a lengthy process to request a review be removed, and often requires proof that the review is false or defamatory.

It’s one thing for a consumer to post a review that they didn’t have a good experience with your company. But what do you do when you are attacked by fake reviews? In my experience, fake reviews are almost always either competitive businesses trying to tarnish your reputation, or others that would benefit from diminishing your reputation.

Some social platforms are becoming much more sophisticated when it comes to fake, or “ghosted,” reviews. These are reviews that are made under a fake or ghosted profile that can’t be linked back to a human person. Yelp has a new system that makes it difficult to post these types of reviews. So difficult, in fact, that approximately 80 percent of reviews on Yelp aren’t even posted.

Google is the opposite. It is easy to create fake profiles and post reviews, and takes a while for Google to review complaints about them and take action. In the meantime, your business can be seriously impacted. If prospective clients or customers see multiple negative reviews about your business, they will undoubtedly be influenced.

In my law practice, reviews are important to maintaining our reputation as the best personal injury law firm in Las Vegas. Most of the reviews posted on Google, Yelp, Facebook, Yellowpages.com and legal websites like Avvo and lawyers.com are real reviews by real people who have experience with my firm. They are important to us and we keep an eye on them. So when a negative review pops up, we notice.

What can you do if someone posts a fake review about you?

INVESTIGATE

The first thing my team does when we see a review that doesn’t make sense is to research the source. First, confirm whether it’s a real person. Have you heard the name before? Can you confirm whether they’ve interacted with your company? Ghost reviewers often have reviewed other businesses. Were they positive reviews about your competitor? Finding a common thread between that profile and other businesses generally tells you whether the reviews are real or not. You should also review the guidelines for reporting the reviews. Make sure you have all the required information before you report them.

My team works closely with Google to improve the review process and help maintain its integrity. We have several sophisticated means to research the source of what we think may be fake reviews. While you may not have access to advanced forensic analysis and evaluation tools, you can find out a lot if you spend the time to research.

RESPOND

The most important thing you can do about a negative review is respond in the same platform on which it was made. If it’s a fake review, call it a fake review! If it is a legitimate review, I also call the person directly to discuss their concerns.

Our industry is also evolving as a result of social media. Attorneys are generally not allowed to discuss someone’s legal case or experience in front of others or in a public setting. If your own mother came in to your meeting with me, I would ask her to leave unless I had written approval from you! But because reviews are becoming such a big part of business, my client agreements now include a written approval that essentially says if they write a legitimate negative review that we have the right to respond to it in that forum. It waives the attorney-client privilege that previously preventing us from responding.

You’ve worked hard to build your business and its reputation. Don’t take fake reviews lightly. They are designed to hurt you and your business, and can if you don’t take action.

Farhan Naqvi is managing partner of Naqvi Injury Law, which he founded in 2008. He has represented victims of personal injury in 4,000 cases and litigated more than 1,000 personal injury matters.

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