Fake Reviews 2.0 Yelp’s Algorithm is Broken

Adam Vagley @goodmigrations

Part of me finds all the fake reviews out there amusing. I even started a series called “Funny Review of the Week” (Alas, I haven’t been disciplined enough to keep up). But mostly I just get frustrated. People use reviews to determine which goods and services to buy and fake reviews can lead them astray. This can, in the case of international moving, leave them hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the hole.

A couple years ago I wrote an in-depth article on spotting fake moving reviews. In the article I called out an international mover called I Luv Moving (alternatively spelled as I Love Moving or I Love International Moving) that was posting fake, 5-star reviews of itself on Yelp. I even told Yelp about it. They didn’t do anything. I thought I’d check in on this company and, no surprise, things haven’t gotten better.

When I wrote about I Luv Moving two years ago Yelp user Todd P. had “only” reviewed these guys 4 times during a 3 week span. He’s now had the opportunity to move 9 times within the past few years.

White Glove International Movers fake reviewThe other moving company Todd has reviewed on Yelp, White Glove International Movers, is also scamming Yelp reviews. Their business location is a residential tower in Westwood, Los Angeles. (You can’t fit a lot of moving trucks in a 2 bedroom apartment.) Judging by their websites both I Luv Moving and White Glove are run by the same person.

In addition to Todd P’s review of White Glove, there’s one other review from Christopher R. He just so happens to have given generous reviews to I Luv Moving — five reviews, to be exact, between April 2012 and August 2012. That is a lot of summer moving!

These users have reviewed lots of other businesses, have lots of Yelp friends, and leave each other Yelp compliments. My guess is this activity makes the Yelp algorithm think they are real people interacting with the site in a natural way and so their reviews are legitimate.

This seems obvious enough that I’m surprised Yelp’s filters don’t catch it. It should be easy to flag someone using moving services more than once a year. Yelp’s structure is flawed, in my opinion, since reviews are only tied to a business location and not an overall business brand. But with 61 million reviews they don’t have the capacity to catch it all (which seems to be a problem for all of these big review sites: see our post on TripAdvisor’s problems). It’s why Yelp and other generalist review sites aren’t reliable for many types of businesses, including moving.

This isn’t news to most of the reputable movers out there — fraudulent activity has been widely reported in publications as prominent as the New York Times. A Harvard study estimates that 1 out of 6 restaurant reviews on Yelp are fake.

The issues with I Luv Moving extend past Yelp, however. They also sport membership badges of AMSA and IAM on their website even though they’re not a member of either organization. This is the sort of fraudulent information that leads consumers to trust a company they shouldn’t, and hurts the industry when a customer gets burned by one of these disreputable companies. This isn’t fair to consumers or to the movers who invest in meeting the standards of these moving organizations (and pay the membership fees!).

I luv moving fake website badges

We can’t police what every company puts on their website, but we can police what goes on ours. It’s why we remain committed to keeping spam reviews off of GoodMigrations. Every single review that’s submitted is audited before it’s published on our site. We want to be the place where consumers can trust what they see and movers can trust that we’re providing a fair playing field that won’t be conned by shady actors.

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