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Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia forum

Seeing red over fake reviews

Posted by somtam2000 on 24/8/2015 at 19:35 admin

From this week's newsletter:

"So you can't throw a satay stick without spearing some news story about fake reviews online, but what is this fake review thing you speak of? Here's a primer regarding Jo's Dormotel in a popular city near you. Please note, these examples are fictional.

Fake Review Level 1
Joe joins Tripadvisor using his Josdormlodge.com email address and off the bat adds a review for his hotel saying it is awesome and that Jo is a really cool guy.

Fake Review Level 2
TA will most likely catch his first attempt and remove it. So Jo signs up for a Fake Review Masterclass and tries again. This time he goes to an internet cafe across town, turns on TunnelBear (a VPN), selects USA, and signs up for a new Gmail account and then signs up to TripAdvisor with the username FirstTimeInAsia and his new Gmail account. Jo then spends the next hour adding hotel reviews to properties in other cities in his country. All reviews are in past tense, because, you know, he's back home after his trip right? A few days later, he returns, signs in again (with the VPN) and enters another 3-4 reviews, still outside his city. A few days later again, he returns and enters reviews for more cities again, this time including his city. And you know what, he really loved his stay at Jo's Dorm Lodge.

Fake Review Level 3
It's fairly unlikely TripAdvisor will catch the above. But just to be sure, on a rainy weekend, Jo goes and sets up a Wordpress Blog for his travels. He mostly just pilfers content from other sights and photos from Flickr and so on. In each town he lists where he stays of course and links to the properties. Amazingly, Jo's was awesome on his blog too!

Fake Review Level 4
As it keeps raining for a week, Jo starts using the TA forum. He answers questions as best he can and where appropriate he mentions Jo's Lodge, but not every post of course, and sometimes he mention's his cousin's hotel instead just to mix it up. Of course at no stage does he mention he owns Jo's. These posts boost his reputation on TA and he starts doing the same on Thorntree, Travelfish and any other travel website forum he can find. He also joins as many Facebook travel groups as he can find and does the same there.

Jo is such a helpful guy!

Levels 1-4 may sound like a lot of work for Jo, but for a very reasonable fee, Jo is able to outsource the entire process to a fake review clearing house that charges him just $2 a review!

Fake Review Level 5
Back at the hotel, when guests check in, Jo lets them know that guests get a free beer if they write two reviews - one for some random hotel and another for Jo's Lodge -- he doesn't have anything in writing about this, and only tells the guests who look like, well, they'd do anything for a free beer. It can be anywhere - TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, on their own blog, wherever. Just show him the page and you'll get your cold one. Get another beer by doing a review on your boyfriend or girlfriend's account. Please don't forget to use a VPN. These reviews will help his TA score and the inbound links may contribute towards him ranking better with Google and other search engines.

Fake Review Level 6
Jo signs up with Booking, HostelWorld and any other online travel agent, which will allow him to take reservations where only the deposit is paid to the agent (this deposit in general represents the agent's commission). He then proceeds to make a steady stream of bookings through these agents, dutifully paying the deposit each time. Of course nobody actually stays (because they don't exist), but because the deposit has been paid, and because as hotel manager, he validates the stay with the agent, he's then able to enter reviews for all these "verified" stays. Luckily, because he runs a dorm hotel, the beds are cheap and the deposit is only $1.50 per night. Bargain!

Fake Review Level 7
Jo gets in touch with popular bloggers and travel writers and offers them complimentary stays in return for reviews. Some of them of course are ethical, and will note the review was complimentary. Others though will not. Bonus free beer for the latter. He works with every travel magazine or website he can find that is happy to run undisclosed advertorial.

Fake Review Level 8
Jo calls his sister who runs Sally's Dormhotel in a city at the southern end of his country and they strike a deal. Any guest at Sally's who writes five hotel reviews [including one for Jo's] as they travel through the country gets three nights' free accommodation at Jo's -- and all the free beer they want.

There's plenty of other permutations to the above -- these are just the ones we're most familiar with and have encountered first hand. Some of these are nigh on impossible to catch -- we only knew about Level 8 because we were tipped off by a traveller who participated in the scam!

In summary, be cautious of claims to verified reviews.

Happy hotel researching!"

What are your thoughts on fake reviews? Do they bother you? Do you think there are a lot? Do they even matter?

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,089

Posted by Gogomobile on 25/8/2015 at 02:08

I always think the fake ones are where they describe how awesome the manager or front desk is. Plus the over the top language that is used. A regular traveller isnt spending much time hanging out with staff and every hotel has 1 or 2 negatives even if its minor so I look for balance.

So no I dont find much of a problem with reviews.

#2 Gogomobile has been a member since 14/4/2015. Posts: 412

Posted by daawgon on 25/8/2015 at 13:22

I've just learned not to expect half of what's written on glowing positive reviews, but the fact is that all advertising is a pack of lies! Let's face it, millions of people look at those Tripadvisor reviews, including myself, and then book accordingly. At least, I cross check rather extensively before I book.

What I find even more disturbing, is that several travel sites will quote directly from the same Tripadvisor reviews. Now I see that Airbnb is also editing their reviews, or dropping them altogether in favor of more positive ones.

This year I booked one inexpensive hotel in Georgetown (Penang) that got glowing positives from Travelfish. To be honest, I was less than pleased with this establishment!

#3 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 1,159

Posted by antoniamitchell on 26/8/2015 at 07:59

I had no idea level 8 was happening. My technique is to ignore any review that is written by someone with fewer than 20 to 30 reviews to their credit (preferably written over at least a couple of years), on the thinking that no scammer would put that much time in. Level 8 means even that is getting unreliable.

But to be honest, the only reliable way I've found to avoid all unsatisfactory places is to never book in advance, so you can thoroughly check out a place before you agree to stay. And even then, you occasionally discover something bad that wasn't in any online review and only becomes apparent at 2am.

#4 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by Gogomobile on 26/8/2015 at 08:34

If you are staying a week but unsure of hotel it is a good idea to book just 2 nights to start then either extend or move elsewhere. That is also useful if unsure of the destination itself. You dont want to commit to 7-10 nights and outlay $1000 if the destination or hotel is a lemon.

#5 Gogomobile has been a member since 14/4/2015. Posts: 412

Posted by somtam2000 on 26/8/2015 at 20:05 admin

@daawgon - sorry to hear it!

@antonia - #8 was a few years ago - a traveller that had participated in the scam let me know by email. We deleted the two properties concerned (one in Saigon and one in Hanoi). Without the tip-off would never have found it.

@gogomobile - agree re booking the first couple of nights only

#6 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,089

Posted by Yesterday on 26/8/2015 at 20:25

I really enjoyed this read.
I quite enjoy reading TripAdvisor reviews and guessing which ones/if any are fake. I also always click on the one star 'terrible' reviews if there are any - often hilarious, sometimes quite worrying. However, I don't think I've ever stayed anywhere and felt that the overall balance of reviews was incorrect. Having said that I'm pretty easy going, so more uptight travellers may get antsy about things I don't even notice.

#7 Yesterday has been a member since 9/8/2015. Posts: 33

Posted by lana22 on 24/10/2015 at 00:51

The nice thing about fake reviews is that they still can't do anything about there also being reviews from real guests. So when there are a lot of bunch of people saying it's just kind of ok, and then some that say OMG it's the best place ever, you pretty much tell which reviews are the real ones.

#8 lana22 has been a member since 24/10/2015. Posts: 1

Posted by Travelist10 on 2/2/2017 at 18:13

Very interesting. Level 7's are usually pretty easy to spot, they leave you cringing!

#9 Travelist10 has been a member since 2/2/2017. Posts: 3


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