Many people check out customer reviews before buying a product, going to dinner or hiring a contractor.
But how reliable are these reviews?
Experts say hundreds of millions of online reviews are fake, impacting businesses.
Chad Simpkins, the owner of Storm Team Construction in Jupiter, is fighting back after 37 posts accused the contractor of leaving leaky roofs, destroying landscaping and leaving trash in their yards.
“This was a low blow,” Simpkins said.
His small business specializes in replacing windows, roofs and doors.
The wall of his Jupiter office is lined with honors and awards.
He thought his customers were satisfied until the night before Thanksgiving.
“I start getting these review notifications on my cellphone,” Simpkins said regarding the notifications of online reviews that were posted on Storm Team’s Facebook and Google pages. “I’m getting,like 10 of them at a time.”
A Google review said: “Storm Team Construction did awful work replacing my roof. They left debris all over my yard and damaged my landscaping.”
A review on Facebook wasn’t any kinder that said: “Storm Team Construction left nails, shingles, wrappers, and bottles all over my yard and roof after the job.”
Overall, he received 37 bad reviews in a short period of time.
“10:07, 10:06, 10:02, 10:00, 9:59, 9:57, so there’s a lot of people mad at me between 9:50 and 10:07 at night,” Simpkins quipped.
He was convinced the reviews were fake.
“I immediately go into my database, and I start typing the last names to see if these are customers, and they’re not,” Simpkins said. “[It’s] probably the worst thing as a business owner that you could deal with.”
Simpkins said the reviews have cost his company business.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve had my representatives out in the field tell me that when they are dealing with customers who are choosing between one contractor or another, they’ve said, ‘We’ve read some of your bad reviews online.'”
Kay Dean, a former federal criminal investigator, now runs the online watchdog group “Fake Review Watch.”
“Storm Team Construction was getting hit with negative reviews from an organized network of Facebook profiles,” Dean said.
She showed WPTV the method she uses to prove that the online reviews of Storm Team are bogus.
Dean took the profiles of the negative posts and uncovered where these same profiles were posted.
She found that of the 37 reviews that trashed the Jupiter business, 32 of the same profiles praised a patio installer in Great Britain.
Twenty-nine of the profiles wrote good things about an Indiana used car dealer.
Twenty of the profiles gave positive recommendations to a Georgia law firm and a Pennsylvania contractor.
So, who is making these posts?
“People would be shocked at what’s going on,” Dean said. “And for maybe a dollar, you can find someone to leave your competitor, or someone you’re not happy with, negative reviews.”
Dean said this organized network makes up names and then matches the names with pictures from stock photos that anyone can buy on the internet.
A picture of one negative reviewer matched a stock photo advertising a “handsome 30-year-old man.”
There are two posts she said that raise a red flag.
Word for word, the posts have the same negative review, the same picture but different names.
Dean claims online platforms are slow to take down fake reviews because posts from users cannot be used to hold Facebook, Google or other platforms responsible.
“So, they get a pass,” she said. “They don’t have much incentive to be allocating resources to self-policing.”
WPTV emailed Google and Facebook to see what they had to say about Storm Team’s bad reviews and other bogus online reviews, but they have not gotten back to WPTV.
“When it comes to defending a business, they’re pretty slow to act,” Simpkins said.
He believes his A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau better reflects his company.
Simpkins is trying to find out who is ultimately behind the reviews that are attempting to smear his company’s reputation.
“We have an idea,” Simpkins said. “The probability is that it’s a competitor.”
Dean said it’s hard to trust online reviews when millions of them good and bad are fake.
She recommends the old-fashioned “word of mouth” method to check out a restaurant, company or product.