Up to a third of reviews on TripAdvisor are fake with hotels and restaurants buying positive reviews, it has been claimed.
Analysis of tens of thousands of reviews on the site has shown that top rated bed and breakfasts have almost twice as many “false” reviews as lower ranked establishments.
An investigation has found that websites are offering glowing reviews for £38, according to The Times.
Others allowed owners to bulk buy reviews for less money, with one offering 10 positive reviews for £69.
One restaurant owner admitted to the paper he had already posted “a large number of positive reviews” but wanted further help to boost his ranking.
He wrote to a website offering fake reviews set up by The Times: “I’m looking to improve my TripAdvisor account, I’m currently 3.5 [out of five] and would like to be 4.5 in the next month, please let me know if you can help."
Analysis of the reviews was done by Fakespot.com which uses an algorithm and machine to identify suspicious reviews.
Fakespot’s analysis does not prove that a review is fake or that a venue has necessarily benefited from them.
Many of the venues listed in TripAdvisor’s top ten rankings appear to have genuine reviews.
Saoud Khalifah, Fakespot’s founder, told The Times: “TripAdvisor has a huge set of problems.
“From our database, the mean of fake reviews is 32.9 per cent. For B&Bs, that rises to 41.9 per cent.
There are a large number of accounts with one or two reviews created by people within hotels or restaurants that have posted fake reviews.
“I would advise TripAdvisor users to approach every review with scepticism.”
Consumer groups say that fake reviews are a growing problem, fooling buying substandard goods and services.
It is estimated that more than £14 billion a year is spent on travel and hotels as a result of reviews.
TripAvisor gets more than 50 million visits a month from users in Britain alone.
The site has flatly denied the allegations saying: “We totally reject the inaccurate and misleading findings presented by The Times. Their claims about fake reviews on TripAdvisor are astonishingly bad ‘click bait’ journalism.
“The usefulness and accuracy of the content on TripAdvisor is what has made our site popular to hundreds of millions of consumers.
“We’ve never lost sight of that and it’s why we fight fraud so aggressively. Learn more about how we do that here.
“The Times investigation is based on entirely flawed techniques.
“The methods used by Fakespot are completely unreliable for one simple reason: they have no access to the technical data you would need to determine whether or not a review is fake.
This article originally appeared in The Sun.