“What can you do if no Serbs and no Swedes have ever been to your venue and left a review?”
A marketing agency in Russia is offering to supply restaurants with fake reviews on TripAdvisor in cities hosting the forthcoming football World Cup to boost their ratings, the agency’s owner admits to the news agency Reuters.
Bacon Agency says it can get around TripAdvisor’s algorithm for spotting and deleting fraudulent posts, allowing it to publish reviews in different languages in time for the arrival of thousands of fans.
“What can you do if no Serbs and no Swedes have ever been to your venue and left a review?” the agency freely asks in a brochure sent to restaurants in Yekaterinburg. “You write it yourself!”
The agency promises a top 10 ranking in TripAdvisor in return for payment of 35,000 rubles (€486).
“We are offering to help tourists find you and leave their money specifically with you,” the brochure continues.
Filling a niche
Bacon Agency’s owner confirmed to Reuters it had offered the service but said it was in response to “high demand”.
“We understand that all this is illegal in the sense that TripAdvisor is against it,” said Roman Baldanov. “We were just testing this niche, because we see high demand.”
He added: “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.”
Reuters tracked restaurants in six of the 11 World Cup host cities over a period of two months and saw a glut of enthusiastic new reviews. A café serving Italian food in Kaliningrad, for example, used to get about one TripAdvisor review a week. Recently it suddenly got 45, pushing it up from 28th place to 2nd.
TripAdvisor says: “We oppose any attempt to manipulate a business’ ranking. Our dedicated investigations team is proactive and extremely effective at catching those trying to solicit fake reviews for money.”