7 Investigators uncover fake online reviews of Detroit businesses

DETROIT - Many of us rely on reviews and ratings of local businesses to decide where to shop and which restaurants to choose.

The 7 Investigators have discovered that many of those reviews are fake, and that’s hurting some local business owners.

Tim Harrison, owner of City Wide Auto Sales, has been selling cars on Detroit’s east side for 25 years.

“I love Detroit.  I’ve been down here for a long time, but I need help,” said Harrison, because in the last six months, he says dozens of negative reviews on Google have plagued his City Wide Auto Sales.

“It’s bad,” said Harrison.

On Google’s star rating system, 5 is the best…

“We went from 4.9 [stars] six months ago to 1.0,” Harrison told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

Alleged “reviewers” have been writing everything from “the atmosphere of City Wide Auto Sales is not secure..” to “worse [sic] service of my life.”

Harrison says he’s if you’ve had a problem with a purchase, he’s more than happy to make it right.   The trouble is, Harrison says he can tell these reviewers have never even been his business.

“Some of the stuff where it says, they come into the business, and we couldn’t get them financed.  First of all, we don’t finance.  All that stuff that’s on there is definitely false,” said Harrison.

The reviewer who goes by the name Jose Brown supposedly reviewed City Wide Auto Sales two months ago.  We don’t know who Jose Brown really is, but his profile picture is actually a picture of a man named Jesus Cortez.   Cortez is a murder victim from Arizona who was killed last December.

Several of these same alleged City Wide Auto Sales customers also reviewed the Detroit Seafood Market in Harmonie Park downtown.

Only in their case, the reviews are glowing and there are a lot of the:  at least 260 reviews.  Many of those reviews appear to be from people who are world travelers; they review companies in Australia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Peru and all over the U.S.

“That’s a dead giveaway that it’s a fake review,” said Mike Blumenthal, an author and researcher at www.getfivestars.com.  Blumenthal has been researching a network of fake reviewers since January, and he says he’s discovered nearly 40,000 fake posts.

“I think Google can do a much better job than they’re doing, helping consumers make a choice as to which business they should be choosing.  And I think that a fair and even playing field is what every business needs and should have,” said Blumenthal.

He says businesses can buy fake reviews online. But using and posting made-up reviews is illegal.

“It’s frustrating, but what can you actually do? You contact Google, you email them – they won’t return your calls.  They’re a billion-dollar company - what do you do? We’re just small potatoes here,” said Harrison.

The Marketing Director for the Detroit Seafood Market says they don’t know where the reviews are coming from, and told the 7 Investigators that they will take legal action against whoever is posting fake reviews.

As for Google, a spokeswoman says they are looking into the negative reviews posted about City Wide Auto Sales.

“Spammers and others with negative intent are a problem for consumers, businesses and technology companies that provide local business information. We’re always working on new and better ways to fight these issues and keep our information up to date.  We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud, but we tend not to share details behind our processes so as not to tip off spammers or others with bad intent,” said Google Maps Communications Manager Elizabeth Davidoff in a written statement to 7 Action News.

For more information about fake online reviews, reviewfraud.org has been tracking reviews.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com or call 248-827-4473.

 

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