Google a business name and the first results likely include the companys Google Place customer ranking, ranging from one to five stars.
7NEWS Uncovers Chain of Reviews
7NEWS discovered a chain of positive endorsements about a group of six metro area businesses, ranging from auto care to hair care.
We found more than 50 Google user accounts that only posted reviews about the same businesses.
We checked the review histories for those Google usernames and repeatedly found positive reviews written exclusively about the same group of businesses: Gravinas Windows and Siding, the Floor Club, Brothers Plumbing and Heating, Pro Auto Care, Molly Maid of Arvada and the Firehaus Salon.
Fifty-two of the 66 Google reviews posted about the Firehaus Salon were traced to users who had only reviewed all or some of the same group of businesses.
For example, the review history for the Google user Mark S only includes six reviews. Every rating was positive, and was about the same six businesses.
7NEWS wanted to know where those Google user accounts and five-star ratings were coming from. We found the woman behind them.
Online Reputation Management
Our whole goal is to generate positive reviews and not negative ones, said Ginger Jones.
Ginger Jones runs Buzz Reactor as an Online Reputation Management Business. After we contacted her, Jones told 7NEWS that Pro Auto Care, the Firehaus Salon, Brothers Plumbing and Heating, Molly Maid of Arvada and the Floor Club are or were linked to her business.
She admitted to creating Google user accounts in order to post positive customer reviews for her clients.
Do you know how many accounts you created in order to post positive reviews? Do you know how many? asked 7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost. Oh, there's a lot, said Jones.
7NEWS traced more than 50 Google user accounts to multiple positive reviews about Jones' clients.
Filtering Negative Customer Reviews
Businesses supplied Jones with their customers email addresses. Jones said she solicited, collected and posted reviews on Google Places, but only if it was positive feedback.
We post only three stars and higher, and the reason why, is I think when a business is putting themselves online, it's important for it to look authentic, said Jones.
The negative feedback goes straight to the businesses that pay Jones and is not posted online.
That grievance isnt going to be on here. The next person who Googles your client isnt going to see that problem? 7NEWS asked. Right, Jones answered.
7NEWS asked Jones if filtering out negative reviews was fair to consumers. Yeah, because we've given them a link to their Google places page.
But in the same email Jones also offers the option to, Let us take care of everything. We'll set up an email address for you. We'll verify the Google review for you. We'll post a review, and you own the account information.
But you won't post it if it's negative? 7NEWS asked.
We don't post stuff that's negative, answered Jones.
Jones said she posted the positive reviews from multiple customers under single Google account user names that she created.
Business: Unaware of Reputation Management Methods
7NEWS reached out to Jones clients, those business.
Greg Idler, owner of Molly Maid Arvada, said he pays Jones $125 a month to keep his website relevant and handle customer ratings.
We know how important ratings are. We need people to manage reviews and make sure were following up with customers, said Idler.
But Idler said he was unaware that Jones was handling the ratings on Google Places with user accounts that she created.
You say your loyalty is to these businesses, your clients? So essentially they pay you to help post positive reviews about their business? 7NEWS asked.
"Yep," she said.
Did you tell your clients that you were posting multiple reviews under the same usernames that you created? 7NEWS asked.
If it ever came up, that would be something that would be completely revealed to them, answered Jones.
But they had to ask you, 7NEWS pointed out.
Yeah, of course, said Jones.
Even though she made up multiple Google user accounts, Jones claims the comments were compiled from real customers, who consented to sharing.
Google Criteria For Removing Reviews
7NEWS asked Jones if the reviews that were posted with Google user accounts that she created would be removed.
"We're not going to take them down. There's no reason to," Jones said.
7NEWS reached out to Google for comment on the Google Place reviews posted under the user accounts created by Buzz Reactor. According to the Google Place criteria for removing reviews there are systems in place to "protect both business owners and customers." One of the criteria for removing reviews:
After consulting a lawyer, Jones is working with new terms and conditions for obtaining and posting Google Place reviews.
Jones said her company, Buzz Reactor, still creates Google user accounts, but only with a customers consent. Jones said she no longer creates a single Google account in order to post reviews from multiple customers about her clients.
Buzz Reactor still filters negative reviews. Jones said her loyalty is to her clients, the businesses.
Five Stars For Sale
There is a market for all-out fabricated feedback. On a message board one post reads, If you have an account on trip advisor, I will pay you for positive feedback."
Fake feedback is for sale for as little as $5. 7NEWS discovered an entire stream of sellers advertising on the website, Fiverr. One offers to write three positive reviews with three different user names. Another boasts, "A ton of experience writing positive reviews that look like they came from an actual customer."
Checking The Validity of Online Reviews
On Google Place ratings, you can actually track those reviews by username to pick up on a pattern like the one 7NEWS discovered.
Instead of just taking reviews for their word, take a look at the date and time stamps especially on a string of positive feedback. Also, be suspicious of a business with too many five star reviews.
If you have a news tip, or follow-up to this story, email me. You can also connect with me on Facebook or through Twitter @amandakost.
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