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19 companies netted by fake yoghurt sting

Painful that fake yoghurt

Nineteen companies have been arrested after they were caught writing fake reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch. The New York Attorney General's office set up a fake yogurt shop in Brooklyn, New York, and asked firms that specialise in boosting online search results to combat negative reviews.

Some search optimisation outfits offered to post fake reviews of the yogurt shop on sites such as Yelp.com, Google Local and IAC/Interactivecorp's Citysearch.com. The companies created online profiles and paid as little as $1 per review to “freelance writers”, some of whom were in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe.

Other businesses, including family-owned bus company US Coachways, a laser-hair removal firm, and an adult entertainment club were also arrested after managers, staff or friends wrote bogus reviews. Yelp said it was critical that the company protect the integrity of its content. It said it would continue to work with law enforcement agencies as well as taking steps itself to combat fraud.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office said the fake reviews breached laws against false advertising and deceptive business practices.

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