ALERT: Fake reviews discovered in Tampa Bay business listings

TAMPA (WFLA) – If you are an avid online shopper and look to online reviews to help you make your buying decisions, you’ll want to pay attention to this.

Some of those reviews may not be legit.

The online expert we spoke with says there could easily be more than 1 million fake reviews on websites like Facebook, Google, Yelp and others.

News Channel 8 discovered companies right here in the bay area that have questionable or downright fake reviews regarding their services.

Courtney from Tampa saves a lot of time shopping online. But before she clicks the buy button, she wants to know if the product works or the service is a good fit.

“I’m kind of a die-hard read all the negative reviews type of person,” she says.

What she doesn’t have time for — are sketchy reviews.

“It can be really misleading for some consumers.”

Internet Expert Jason Brown from California feels the same. He was so fed up with reviews that weren’t legit, that he launched ReviewFraud.org to expose companies he claims are tricking consumers with questionable or fake reviews.

In a nutshell: He analyzes a business, finds the true source of that review and cross-checks with fake profiles.

“You start seeing similar businesses in different states over and over again,” he says. “And it’s a pretty clear-cut pattern of abuse.”

We found more than 50 Tampa Bay area businesses on Jason’s list that were flagged for questionable Google reviews.

For instance, Jaden Lahm “thanked” Affordable Bankruptcy Law Firm on Kennedy Boulevard. We couldn’t find a Jaden Lahm anywhere locally. The image used in the profile picture was taken from the web from a stock photo website.

Sara Maria would “definitely recommend” an air conditioning company Busch Boulevard.

We couldn’t find Sarah, but we did find the source of the same image. In fact there were several from a photoshoot with an actress in India.

The company in question – Air National Air Conditioning and Heating – is just one of many companies we found on ReviewFraud.org. We stopped by to see if they could shed some light on these questionable reviews.

They couldn’t explain why Dublin Crook thought the place was ‘very cozy and reminded him of cafes in New York City.

New York cafes? Not only was this review about eggs benedict and a restaurant, it was so bogus that Dublin Crook’s image is actually that of a young Liam Payne from the band One Direction.

“Obviously this is a fake review, it’s not, it’s not real,” Jason says.

K9 Korral in Sarasota is a ‘fantastic resource’ according to George Minor. We couldn’t find minor, but we did track down the image used in the profile. It’s actually that of TV actor Cody Kasch.

Jeffrey Andrew of K9 Korral got right back to us saying several past web companies have let his business down.

“Thank you for pointing this out. It’s just one more thing we have to fix I guess,” he writes. “I will get this fixed somehow.”

Questionable reviews aren’t just limited to Google. Brown says he finds fake reviews in Facebook, Yelp, travel sites and virtually anywhere you can leave a review. He has 2,200 businesses documented and says he still has 4,000 he needs to add.

“It’s not just the United States, it’s global,” he says. “But I’m finding them in every state.”

It’s a problem that’s likely here to stay.

“You really have to do your homework nowadays,” Courtney says. “There’s a lot to choose from, there’s a lot of really great people out there, there’s a lot of great products, but there’s also some duds.

A representative with Air National Air Conditioning and Heating responded to our story:

“Air National did, however, respond to a solicitation in which a company, 5 Stars Reputation Management Company, offered to provide marketing services that would guarantee that our company would get to page one of Google and improve our ratings on the internet,” she explained.

“If there are any fictitious reviews, I can assure they were not created by Air National.”

News Channel 8 reached out to 5 Stars Reputation Management Company. Their phone number was no longer in service and their website had been taken down.

To see at least 2,200 companies that had fake reviews, including more than 50 in Tampa, go to the document on ReviewFraud.org.

How can you tell if they are real or fake? Here are eight ways you can make a better decision next time you’re shopping online.

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