In an amazing display of consumer advocacy, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) fined a removalist firm for posting fraudulent online reviews that deceived customers into using their services. The ACCC issued three infringement notices against Citymove, forcing it to pay a penalty of $30,600. The ACCC alleges that Citymove posted two fake testimonials on Google+ and one on Youtube. All three testimonials appear to have been fabricated and given by fake consumers.

According to their website, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is “an independent Commonwealth statutory authority whose role is to enforce the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and a range of additional legislation, promoting competition, fair trading and regulating national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians.”

As for their stance on fraudulent reviews, “Businesses and review platforms that do not remove reviews that they know to be fake risk breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Reviews may mislead consumers if they are presented as impartial, but were written by: The reviewed business, a competitor, someone paid to write the review who has not used the product, or someone who has used the product but written an inflated review to receive a financial or non-financial benefit.”

Why fight fake reviews

Fake online reviews are a serious problem because the use of consumer-generated content, like online reviews, shows no signs of slowing down. Why? Consumers value the opinion of other consumers. Our research found that 71% of shoppers read consumer reviews before making a purchase. And those reviews lead to sales – visitors who read reviews convert 104% higher. Reviews have an enormous value in their ability to influence purchase intent.

But fraudulent reviews threaten to corrupt this invaluable tool – for shoppers and businesses alike. Now, 7 in 10 consumers question the authenticity of reviews they read. Some believe companies reward positive reviews, remove negative ones, or employ people to write fake reviews. When you create a great product or provide superior service and earn glowing reviews, your hard work is diminished by this growing distrust.

Brands and retailers turn to consumer-generated content to provide consumer insights, marketing content, and product innovation. Savvy companies are capitalizing on this real-time data to guide decision making, as feedback reveals what customers want and love. By analyzing consumer reviews and communication, companies learn what works and adapt to provide more of it. L.L. Bean’s product managers hold weekly meetings to analyse shopper reviews and plan responsive action. Products have even been altered or discontinued based on customer feedback. What if that feedback is compromised by fraudulent reviews – compromising the resulting decisions?

Consider the altruistic nature of review writers: 87% of reviewers write to help others, improve the product, and share insights. What if consumers stop communicating because they no longer feel their opinion makes a difference, since it’s buried in inauthentic content? Knowing your customer reviews are authentic allows your company to make better strategic decisions, informed by real, valuable data. And keeping your site free of fraudulent content encourages reviewers to keep sharing their authentic opinions.

Fake reviews will always be a problem as long as there is no industry-wide standard of authenticity. It’s not too late – we can reduce doubt and increase trustworthiness with action. 44%of consumers say they would be “more trusting of reviews” if a company included a trust mark and accompanying description of anti-fraud policies. And confidence in trust marks is growing. Almost half of consumers already expect to see trust marks displayed where they shop online, and 18% prioritise websites that display marks because they believe “the content is authentic.”

Fining a company is one option to combat the creation and use of fake reviews in Australia. But this only penalizes companies discovered using these deceptive practices. It does not help the shopper right now. Only through the use of a trust mark can consumers have the confidence the consumer-generated content they are basing their purchase decisions upon is genuine. To learn more about Bazaarvoice’s Authenticity policy and our Authentic Reviews Trustmark, please visit Bazaarvoice.com/authenticity/