TripAdvisor has welcomed the result of a legal ruling in Italy which saw a persistent online review fraudster sentenced to jail.
In one of the first legal cases of its kind, the criminal court of Lecce ruled that writing fake reviews using a false identity is criminal conduct under Italian criminal law.
The owner of PromoSalento, which sold fake review packages to hospitality businesses in Italy, was sentenced to nine months in prison and ordered to pay approximately €8,000 in costs and damages.
Paid review fraud – when companies or individuals ‘sell’ fake reviews to business owners – is a violation of the law in many jurisdictions, but this is one of the first cases of enforcement resulting in a criminal conviction.
TripAdvisor supported the prosecution of PromoSalento as a civil claimant by sharing evidence from its extensive in-house fraud investigations and providing support from its Italian legal counsel.
Brad Young, vice president, associate general counsel, TripAdvisor, said: “We see this as a landmark ruling for the internet.
“Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result.”
He added: “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.”
Review fraud is something TripAdvisor takes extremely seriously, employing advanced tracking technology and a dedicated team of investigators to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on the site.
More information on TripAdvisor’s in-house investigation into PromoSalento can be found here.
“Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules,” said Pascal Lamy, chairman, World Committee on Tourism Ethics, UNWTO.
“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.”