Yelp issues consumer alert for businesses paying for reviews

Yelp says La Mesa store offers to pay for 5 stars

SAN DIEGO - Review website Yelp is warning people about businesses it says tries to pay people for five-star reviews.

Elijah Rasmussen checked out a crepe place on the popular online review site after getting burned not using it.

"There have been a couple places I wish I would have looked up before going," said Rasmussen.

Another San Diego diner, Banu Pawleke, told Team 10 she uses Yelp every day "to check out the pictures and the food."

Yelp said 108 million people use the site or mobile app every month.

"The overall rating is usually dead on," said Pawleke.

Unless the businesses are logging on and writing their own fake reviews to give themselves a higher rating.

"Usually, it's a long review and everything is perfect and heavenly and sugarcoated," Pawleke said about reading reviews she suspected of being fake.

Vince Sollitto, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Yelp, said the company found Discount Mattresses and Furniture on La Mesa Boulevard in La Mesa doing this.

"This business created a dozen or so accounts on Yelp from the same IP address -- their IP address -- which they used to create fake reviews of their own business," Sollitto said.

Sollitto said the business then used those accounts to message people on Yelp offering to "pay $25 by PayPal or mail for a five star vote for my business."

He added, "It violates guidelines from the federal government. The FTC has been very clear that paid testimonials must be disclosed because this is misleading and deceiving to consumers."

Yelp put a "Consumer Alert" warning over the reviews for the business to let users know what happened, and Sollitto said Yelp does this for any business they believe is doing the same thing.

Team 10 tried to contact Discount Mattresses and Furniture for a comment over several days, but so far, the requests have gone unanswered.

Yelp says the "Consumer Alert" is one more tool the site is using to police the site.

Yelp uses an automated algorithm that filters out some reviews, so only 75 percent of reviews are highlighted for businesses.

People have complained about that filter system, but Yelp maintains the algorithm works.

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