Fake online reviews may be fooling Wisconsin consumers

Posted at 9:50 PM, May 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-01 13:32:24-04

A man running an apparent fake account gave five stars to a local car dealership but a quick check of this Google reviewer's profile lead the I-Team to a very unexpected discovery. 
The man in the account’s profile photo is a convicted felon now in prison, but someone using his mugshot is writing online reviews.  Glenn M. Suggs has 27 reviews on his Google profile.  The most recent posted a week ago about a business in New Jersey, but the man in the photo wasn't actually getting anything repaired.

Suggs' picture is really a mugshot of a man named Jose Ferreira.  He was sentenced in Milwaukee in March; he's now serving time in a three-decade-old cold case.  While Ferreira is behind bars the person using his mugshot is posting reviews of businesses across the U.S., some of them here in Wisconsin.

And just last month Glenn M. Suggs left reviews for five different Russ Darrow dealerships giving all of them five stars for experience, pricing, and service.

"Consumers aren't going to be able to know who to trust or what to trust," said Jason Brown. 

Brown stumbled across a few fake Google reviews and is now spending his free time weeding out as many as he can. 

"I'm kind of surprised at some of the services I'm seeing,” Brown said. “When you start seeing doctors, optometrists, dentists; that's a little scarier." 

The California man reached out to us after discovering what he believes are fake Google reviews for several Wisconsin businesses.

Brown says so far he's found more than 500 across the country like the one posted by Jae D. Pool. The profile image is actually of a Cornell University professor who told us he flagged it with Google. The search engine took down the review but not the profile.

Brown contacted the Federal Trade Commission, sending a list of U.S businesses he claims have fake reviews. 

"My endgame is to get Google to finally come forward and start cleaning up this mess,” he said. “They could easily add more layers of security to their system." 

But Google claims it has systems in place, and said, "We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud."  Its review policy states dishonest reviews "may be removed."

Christopher Jones is with Sikich, a Brookfield-based computer security firm.  He pointed out, "the more positive reviews out there the more people are clicking on your site."

Jones told us good reviews keep businesses front and center in a Google search, but when it comes to tracking down who's really behind these profiles, "it's really hard to find these people's identities online.  Even if you were to trace through their IP address which would involve a court order."

Your best protection is to be an informed consumer.  Check out individual profiles, many of the fake Google ones review businesses all over the U.S. or go overboard for one business. In one profile we found the user gave five stars to three different J.D. Byrider dealerships in the same month.  Look for gross grammatical errors and don't rely just on one review site.

So far Wisconsin is the only state to respond to Brown about the fake reviews. The FTC handed his complaint about Russ Darrow over to the state's Bureau of Consumer Protection.  It has contacted the dealership about the issue. 

One note here, Russ Darrow owns J.D. Byrider locations in Wisconsin. The Russ Darrow group released the following statement.

After further investigation we have learned that a third-party vendor has recently been posting falsified reviews about our company without our knowledge or approval.  Upon learning this we immediately began the process of having these reviews removed and are terminating our relationship with the vendor.

For more information about reporting fake reviews, check out the resources below. 

Google: Flag and fix inappropriate reviews

Yelp: How to report a review