Upon Further Review: Falsifying Online Reviews Image

Upon Further Review: Falsifying Online Reviews


The emergence of online, peer review sites, such as Yelp or Citysearch, have given anyone with an internet connection the ability to rate any number of things; from their experience at a restaurant to the service they received from their mechanic.

This trend has carried into the real estate and mortgage sectors across North America, as sites have begun popping up that give consumers the ability to rate the service of an industry professional for the world to see. However, another trend has coincided with the rise of the consumer review website: false or misleading reviews, done either by the industry professionals themselves or by someone they pay to do it for them.

This trend has become a serious problem south of the border. Late last month, regulators in New York state announced the results of a year-long investigation into fraudulent online reviews across a broad spectrum of businesses and industries. The investigation has resulted in agreements with 19 companies that are accused of creating fake online reviews to try to fool consumers; the companies will pay a total of $350,000 in penalties. The New York investigation has not singled out any real estate and mortgage licensees or brokerages, but there is nothing saying that Alberta’s real estate sector is immune to this type of behaviour.

While the Real Estate Council of Alberta (RECA) does not have a policy that addresses “fake reviews” specifically, the Real Estate Act Rules do spell out that industry members are prohibited from misleading consumers. Not only does such behaviour lower the reputation of the industry professional involved, but it’s this type of activity that can damage the reputation of the industry as a whole. Industry professionals who are focused on giving consumers competent, honest and professional service shouldn’t need to create fake positive reviews.

What’s your stance on peer review sites set up specifically to rate the performance of industry professionals?