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NY seeks to delete phony online reviews

Albany/Rochester, N.Y. - New York's attorney general is trying to dismantle what he calls a system of creating false online reviews for products and services.

On Monday, Eric Schneiderman settled cases with 19 companies that included $350,000 in penalties after a yearlong investigation into the fake plaudits sometimes called "astroturfing." The term is based on the synthetic grass used on sports fields.

Schneiderman says he found companies that filed false reviews on Yelp, Google Local, CitySearch and other websites.

I think it's not fair to get a competitive advantage from people putting false reviews out, said Gary Dec, a small business owner and a customer who uses online reviews.

I believe a lot of people will look on Google and they'll see this and with the comment section being right there, the comments really are crucial, said Aaron Furtner, Genesee Brew House Restaurant Manager.

As a newer business Furtner said they depend on customer reviews.

It will certainly help and I hope it won't dispel people from leaving their input, said Furtner of the crackdown.

Some people think cracking down on false reviews is going to hurt more than help.

It's going to be hard to weed out what's a fake review from what is a legitimate enthusiastic customer, said Matt Lynch, and I think enthusiastic customers are going to end up paying the price.

Many of the reviews Schneiderman found were written by people in Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe for $1 to $10 per review.

Some fraudulent writers also defended their fake reviews on websites challenging the reviews.

One undercover agent was able to hire a company to create a false positive impression of a fictitious company.

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Washington Times