Man jailed in Italy for selling fake TripAdvisor reviews

A TripAdvisor reviewer has been sentenced to nine months in prison in a landmark fraud ruling by an Italian court.
The owner of Promo Salento, a tourism promoter in the southern region of Puglia, was convicted of selling fake reviews to hundreds of hospitality businesses across Italy in order to raise its profile on the website. He was also ordered to pay €8,000 (£7,100).
The court in Lecce said writing fake reviews under a false identity is a crime under Italian law.
During an in-house investigation dating back to 2015, TripAdvisor staff identified and blocked more than 1,000 attempts by Promo Salento to post reviews.
“The police investigation into Promo Salento delivered enough evidence of criminal conduct to send the case to court,” the American company said in a statement.
“TripAdvisor formally joined the prosecution as a civil claimant, sharing evidence from our own investigations and providing support from our Italian legal counsel.”
Paid review fraud violates the law in many jurisdictions, although this is the first time a case has resulted in a prison sentence.
Brad Young, TripAdvisor’s vice-president and associate general counsel, said the court’s decision was a pivotal ruling for the internet.
“We invest a lot in fraud prevention and we’re successful at tackling it – since 2015, we’ve put a stop to the activity of more than 60 different paid review companies worldwide,” he said.
“However, we can only do so much alone, which is why we’re eager to collaborate with regulators and law enforcement authorities to support their prosecutions.”
Pascal Lamy, the chairman of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, said: “Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules.”