Businesses that arrange for marketing agencies to write fake online reviews for them could be breaking consumer protection law, it has been warned.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued the warning after finding evidence that Total SEO and Marketing – a search engine optimisation (SEO) and online marketing company – was writing hundreds of fake reviews about its clients.
The investigation into the firm found that between 2014 and 2015 it had written over 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses that were published across 26 different online review websites.
Total SEO has agreed to cease the practice of writing fake reviews for its clients and will take steps to remove the false reviews already posted online.
In addition, the CMA has written to Total SEO’s clients – including car dealers, mechanics, landscape gardeners and other tradespeople – to warn them that third parties writing fake reviews on their behalf might lead to them breaking the law themselves.
PR, marketing and SEO companies should not write or arrange fake reviews on behalf of their clients and businesses should not commissioned third parties to write fake reviews about them, the CMA said.
Nisha Arora, senior director at the CMA, said: “With more than half of people in the UK using online reviews to help them choose what to buy, they are becoming an increasingly valuable source of information.
“Fake reviews can lead to people making the wrong decisions and fair-playing businesses losing out.
“Search engine optimisation companies, PR and marketing agencies provide a valuable service to businesses, but they must do this lawfully. Our enforcement action against Total SEO makes clear that posting fake reviews about clients is unacceptable.”
The CMA has also produced a written brief explanation for businesses summarising how to comply with consumer protection law in relation to online reviews.