Online firms to face huge fines for hosting fake reviews

mobile 2The UK Government is finally acting on fake reviews with plans to make it illegal for companies to pay someone to write bogus reviews – as well as host them online – in a move it claims will protect both consumers and the hospitality sector.

The plans were first revealed in July 2021 in a consultation called “Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy”, which delivered on the Government’s manifesto commitment to “give the Competition & Markets Authority enhanced powers to tackle consumer rip-offs and bad business practices”.

The CMA will be able to directly enforce consumer law, including new powers to fine firms up to 10% of their global turnover for mistreating customers. This replaces going through a court process which can take years.

Prepayment schemes like Christmas savings clubs will also be included in the changes, to fully safeguard customers’ money through insurance or trust accounts. This will prevent scandals like Farepak, in which the business went bust and thousands of people lost their money.

As part of enforcing these rules, overseen by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, commissioning someone to write a fake review will be illegal, as will hosting consumer reviews without taking reasonable steps to ensure they are genuine, and offering to submit or facilitate fake reviews.

Ministers claim the measures are part of its commitment to adapt to the lessons of the pandemic, which has “cast a spotlight on bad business practices”, although they still need Parliamentary approval.

Small Business Minister Paul Scully said: “We’re making sure consumer protections keep pace with a modern, digitised economy. No longer will you visit a five star-reviewed restaurant only to find a burnt lasagne or get caught in a subscription in which there’s no end in sight.

“Consumers deserve better and the majority of businesses out there doing the right thing deserve protection from rogue traders undermining them.”

In response, Dan Hawkie, MD of customer experience platform Feed It Back, commented: “Consumers are the backbone of key industries such as the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors, and with review channels being so important for a customer’s decision on where to eat or drink out, go on holiday, or buy goods, the integrity of these reviews is of the utmost importance.

“Taking these measures against fake reviews is a great equaliser for businesses that operate the right way, rewarding both the business and the consumer. It also places an emphasis on the delivery of brilliant customer service moving forward, ensuring the best operators are commended, whereas those that struggle to deliver excellence will suffer.”

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