Sophisticated Review Fraud Hits TripAdvisor

Consumer beware.

Hospitality marketing firms are promoting their ability to concoct systematic fake reviews to improve a hotel’s rating and lambaste the competitors.  Consumers, however, are poised to be hurt the worst.

Can you spot these fake reviews?

I assert, definitely not.

The wide-spread belief that real reviews can be sorted from the bogus is rapidly changing through more elaborate (though not abstruse) means.

Basing your trust on those who have written more reviews, or a wider range of reviews no longer matters.  It doesn’t take a scientist to opinion that someone with few reviews and an angled perspective is likely fake, or in any event, not credible.  Professional review creators certainly understand that even better than we do, and write accordingly.

The fraud problem, previously seen as a potentially self-limiting number of fake reviews contrived by employees, friends and families in a relatively low-scale, low-tech way, is now progressing to an entirely new level of reviewer identities specifically fashioned with multiple reviews of different properties.

How it’s done:

Not requiring Herculean technology, marketers are using a multitude of reviewer locations and IP addresses, among other means, in order to to circumvent both the manual and automated fraud prevention methods that TripAdvisor employs.  Likely these black hat sculptors are several steps ahead of TripAdvisor and the rest of us in this regard.


On a small scale, the photo example above points to a job offer to sculpt fraudulent TripAdvisor reviews.  You won’t find hotel marketers offering these services on Google. They use other, less traceable means to engage prospective properties.  It is hard to imagine many hotels which wouldn’t at least want to listen to such a potentially lucrative ploy.

Why this is working:

With an extremely challenging hospitality economy predicted for some time to come, hotels can simply not afford to leave reviews to chance.  The value in a higher TripAdvisor rating equates to rooms filled vs. rooms empty and to a great deal of money.  Or simply the ability to stay in business.

Where is TripAdvisor in all this?

Expedia’s TripAdvisor regularly states their position that while they are aware of attempts to systematically subvert reviews, they take this very seriously and have the matter under control.  As you’ll recall TripAdvisor not long ago went to the extent of putting punitive red badges on properties believed to be taking part in these nefarious activities.

That having been said, however, I believe TripAdvisor continues to be wary of anything that would reduce its number of reviews, real or otherwise. Doing so would likely bring serious damage to its advertising business, which is Expedia’s cash cow.


Subscribe to our email updates.

17 thoughts on “Sophisticated Review Fraud Hits TripAdvisor”

  1. Marty had some good comments. Personally, I don’t think anyone should be able to leave a ‘review’ of a hotel unless they have personally stayed there. Seriously doubt we will ever see that idea implemented.

    I recall someone once said just throw out all of the 5 star and 1 star ratings and then take the ‘average’ of what’s left and you will be just about right.

    Sounds like a fairer way to take Tripadvisor comments. I used to check out the other posts a person put on Tripadvisor. I have seen people who posted on properties all over the map – they never say WHEN exactly they stayed. I suspect these 1 time reviews were bought and paid for.

    Personally, I never even consider a review by someone who has only posted once. I used to feel fairly comfortable with reviews written by folks who seemed to have traveled a lot and left lots of reviews. Of course, now we know that even these folks could be suspect – and that is kind of sad. To think that every reviewer now has to be held in suspicion.

    It seems that if there is a dollar out there – there will be someone who sits around and figures out a way to screw someone out of it. Sad, sad, sad.

    I also tend to agree with Alisha – what we really want to hear about on The Beat of Hawaii is HAWAII INFO – first and foremost. It is why I subscribe. So, keep the Hawaii news coming!

  2. I have done some investigation here about Tripadvisor. I have worked with hotels for many years and this is what I can say for sure.
    Hotel owners, mostly independent hotels, have lost control of their industry. Third parties have taken over while having little or no investment. These third parties, i.e. Tripadvisor,, Expedia and Hotwire, all of which are owned by Barry Diller have turned the independent owner into a pawn by having the ability to manipulate the reviews in such a way that they can actually redirect customers without them even knowing it.
    How so? O.K. Go to Tripadvisor pick a city and see what you find. A list of hotels in a rating system from one to whatever number. If we believe the reviews some might have 15 reviews and are rated # 1, 2 or 3 (often these hotels have only recently signed up with these third parties). Then one will have 100 reviews and be rated somewhere in the so so area. Yet the 100 reviews have 75 very good ratings. The highest rated one could very well be an old hotel under new management and it might have been a dump in its previous listing life. The new hotel owner swiftly loads his fake reviews by having his family and associates post fake 5 star reviews. Tripadvisor can not stop these fakes if they are loaded in by different computers with different IP addresses. Think Kinko’s, UPS stores, etc. or even office depot while appearing to be looking to purchasing a new laptop.
    This also applies to the other side of the picture. Someone loads bad reviews of their competitor. Or a crazy customer that did not get a discount and just creates new email accounts and looks like 30 different people. This all happens on tripadvisor every day. Because they do not require proof of you even having stayed at the hotel.
    Now lets look at how Tripadvisor makes money. They make a % of every unit booked on, Expedia, Hotwire or an affiliate. No you say tripadvisor does not get a commission. Well kind of? They get a pay per click fee from most of their links. So the more they keep you going in circles the better. More clicks.
    However Expedia, Hotwire and are owned by the same person that owns Tripadvisor. 25-35% of the hotel rate is what they get. Some hotels have contracts that are better for Expedia, etc. so you are now very cleverly directed to these hotels. How? By manipulating the reviews that is how. They remove negative reviews or hold back positive ones. Do they write them? No they just maneuver them. Which is the same thing in my book.
    Also most of the time there is no discount at all. You just think you got one. Just check the room rate or call the hotel before booking and you will see that.
    Now in the beginning these third parties were great for independent hotels because it got them in with the big boys on the web. Where can a small independent advertize. They could not take ads in every city in the world. So that was good in the start. However when Barry Diller saw the manipulation that was possible he began to purchase these companies and here we sit today all arguing with one another while he rakes in the cash.
    The last thing that no one gets is this. Third parties have raised the price of rooms over the years. Hoteliers have adjusted prices to include their third parties commissions. Just a fact of doing business. As usual the angels become the devil and that what third party bookers have become.
    Always call the hotel before booking. Because third party bookings get the worst rooms in a hotel because your booking is classified as a bargain hunter. If you book direct you get treated better and you have a direct relationship with the hotel not some third party that holds the hotel, less commission, funds for up to 30 days or more. Many times if there is a problem the hotel will tell Expedia to refund a guest payment. In that event what sometimes happens is the guest is told that the hotel would not refund the money. Then the hotel does not get the funds and Expedia keeps it all. No you say! They would not do that! Well let me show you how far they will go. Lets say you book a $100.00 + tax and the Hotel is paid $70.00 + tax. Where do you think the tax on $30.00 goes. Nowhere Expedia keeps it. Now if a company will cheat every city in the world out of sales taxes what do you think they will do to you. “BARRY DILLER” you are a piece of work!

  3. I never said this information shouldn’t be reported – merely that I only need to be given it once.

    I don’t know why Soren feels the need to be nasty, that’s a shame. But apparently he’s done now.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top