Ahead of World Cup soccer games taking place in 12 host cities in Russia this summer, a Russian marketing company is advertising a service that creates fake restaurant reviews. Reuters reports the company, called Bacon Agency, guarantees its reviews will rank a business in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 list for its city. TripAdvisor says its investigative team is “proactive and extremely effective” in spotting and deleting fake reviews, but Bacon Agency says the practice is already widespread.
“We were just testing this niche, because we see high demand. It’s not because we’re bad guys who came in and said, look, you’ve got to start swindling ... All restaurants know that reviews are ordered, and many use this service,” Bacon Agency owner Roman Baldanov tells Reuters.
The fake reviews cost 35,000 rubles, or about $570, and the agency says these posts are designed to outwit TripAdvisor’s fraud-spotting algorithm. The fake reviews are posted using different internet browsers, IP addresses, and operating systems to avoid tripping the algorithm. The fake reviewers also create a back history of past reviews for their accounts, making them seem more legitimate, and use real photos of the business and menu supplied by the restaurant itself.
With foreign tourists flocking to World Cup host cities for matches, businesses are vying to win their business, creating an incentive to pad online reviews. Reuters reporters documented an increase in suspicious-looking TripAdvisor reviews in six World Cup host cities in two months, including “at least six restaurants in the TripAdvisor top 30 list for Kaliningrad, which will host Croatia and Nigeria.”
While scams like this certainly undermine consumer confidence in review sites, maybe it will encourage Russian hackers to spend more time on TripAdvisor and less time trying to influence America’s electoral process. Silver lining?