Yelp Cracks Down On Fake Restaurant Reviews

Fake Yelp reviews are rampant, but hopefully not for long.

A restaurant's positive Yelp reviews might help you finalize the decision of where to go for dinner, but you might want to start scrutinizing some of those business pages a little more closely. If you're seeing a lot of suspiciously effusive reviews for a place, rest assured that Yelp has noticed too. The crowd-sourced reviews website has released an index of businesses believed to be engaging in "suspicious" behavior on the platform, and as you might expect, there are a ton of restaurants on the list.


How and why Yelp flags restaurants for suspicious activity

Engadget reports that Yelp has allegedly caught almost 5,000 businesses in suspicious activity. This can take many different forms, including hiring people or shady services to write fake reviews, or paying customers to write positive ones for them.


The Yelp consumer alerts page has not only gathered a list of offending businesses, but also presents documented evidence of each business' alleged activities, which you can find by clicking "View the evidence here." For example, the restaurant below (which Yelp users report as now closed) distributed flyers promising customers freebies in exchange for five-star reviews before the grand opening:

Prior to Yelp's rollout of this digital wall of shame, it was still tracking offending businesses, but it wasn't quite so easy to figure out which establishments had been flagged. Before, if it detected unusual activity on a business page, Yelp would add a box to that profile down in the reviews section stating the concerns of funny behavior (still in effect for many businesses listed). The text box reads:


We have noticed suspicious review activity for this business. This sort of activity can take many forms, including when a number of positive reviews originate from the same IP address or when we've identified reviews resulting from a possible deceptive review ring. Our automated recommendation software has taken this suspicious activity into account in choosing which reviews to display, but we wanted to call this to your attention because someone may be trying to artificially inflate the rating for this business.

As a user accessing the information, you then need to click through the box to view all the reviews left for the business. This ensures that you've been given the chance to read the note, and you can decide for yourself whether to take the posted reviews with a grain of salt.

Right now, positive Yelp and Google reviews can be a blessing for countless businesses, but they can also be weaponized those same establishments. Last year, a rash of Google review spammers would take restaurant owners digitally hostage by bombing their pages with one-star reviews, threatening to continue until the business gave them digital gift cards. But by the time the restaurant either acquiesced or fought against the spam, the reputational damage would already be done, with owners and operators having to explain to their customers what happened via the restaurants' social media pages.


The internet can be a rocky place to navigate, so now more than ever, consider Yelp reviews more guidance than gospel. And if all those five-star reviews (or one-star reviews) look suspiciously consistent, the restaurant might just end up listed here.