Understanding Google My Business & Local Search
The Largest Review Spam Network Ever Or… Who is Shazedur Rahman and why should you care?
The title, The Largest Review Spam Network Ever, might seem like hyperbole. While I don’t yet know the network’s full size, it is responsible for tens if not hundreds of thousands of fake reviews. If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other post0.
Now onto the more important question…
Who is Shazedur Rahman and why should you care?
Apparently she is a world traveler that purchased her wedding ring in Israel and eight months later hired a PI to track her husband down in Cebu1. She had her cell phone fixed by the same franchise in both Toronto & Vancouver2 and procured Pest Control services in both NYC and San Antonio. While in Austin she had her children’s teeth examined but prior to doing so checked out four other dentists before she chose Dr. Melanson.
Shazedur has had her cars shipped from Seattle to Kansas City, Portland to NYC and from Simi Valley Ca to someplace. Oh and for some reason she doesn’t like3 the cigars from Sam’s Smokes in Brisbane, Australia. Did I mention that she studied mortuary science in Wheeling Il.
All of this and more has occurred within the last year. Truly a renaissance woman.
OK. I confess. She’s a review spammer. But you already figured that out.
What you haven’t figured out is that she sits amidst one of the largest review spam networks I have seen and I have been unable, due to its size, to get anywhere near the end of it.
Worse, I have been unable to get it removed from Google.
I have no idea how many fake reviewers are in the network but every time I click through to another business using the service I find 10-20 more. They go on and on.4
When you start cross checking her reviews against other reviewers you find a similar pattern of reviews over large geographic areas5, for businesses that often have spammy names6, they are frequently in the service industries rife with spam7, the reviewers often review similar types of services in disparate locations8, and the reviews contain conflicting life stories and obviously fake identities9.
And there is always an overlapping of businesses that they review in common with the other reviewers. Usually any reviewer has no more than 3 reviews in common with any one of their compatriots.
While the pattern is obvious it is apparently too subtle for Google’s algos or human reviewer to spot.
How many are there?
I have no idea how expansive this network is but in the hours I have studied it, I have found at the very minimum a hundred reviewers and many more businesses10.
Life is too short to get to the end of it but if I were to guess I would put the businesses in the many hundred or perhaps thousands and the fake reviews in the tens of thousands and maybe in the hundred of thousands range. I don’t know the numbers other than to say that both are quite large.
Time for Google to step up
Review spam at this scale, unencumbered by any Google enforcement, calls into question every review that Google has. Fake business listings are bad but businesses with 20 or 50 or 150 fake reviews are worse. They deceive the searcher and the buying public and they stain every real review, every honest business and Google.
Its time11 to remove the bogus reviews. In the past Google has banned the reviewers who have left the bogus reviews but I think that it is time to penalize businesses that use them as well.
What good is a “real listing”12 if the reviews are fake?
0 – As a digital guy, my footnotes need to start with zero, particularly if one has added a paragraph after all the other footnotes were done. No story is completely original. Nor is this one. I would like to thank Jason Brown who originally pointed out the fake reviews that led me down this rabbit hole. And of course Lemony Snicket.
1 – Where the F&*k is Cebu? Apparently an island in the Philippines.
2- For the life of me, I can’t figure out why she didn’t like Elk Grove Wireless Repair in California. She must just like those Canadian repair folks better.
3- There is the occasional 1 star review given. I assume that these are clients that have left the service.
4- Here are some of the personas that I found. If you want to contribute to the spreadsheet, start exploring and add them here.
|And many more here|
5 – I get that any one reviewer might travel the world. But when there is a pattern of similar reviewers leaving reviews on similar businesses over a similar time frame it is more than coincidence.
6- I particularly like the one named The Attic Specialist Inc -Insulation Replacement#Attic Cleaning Los Angeles. Could you get it any long? That is just a rhetorical question as I am sure that you can. I have no idea of the field length.
7 – Think the same list of “miscreants” that Google identified in their recent fake listing research.
8 – Jessica Riedel used a Milford, OH water damage place, National Garage Remotes & Openers in AUSTRALIA, SmartPhone Quick Fix in Orlando, oh, a bath remodeler in Columbus OH and a video security system installer from Ottawa On, water damage pros from Ca and a Denver Plumber… oh and a window installer Sanderson Windows in the UK. I get that any one reviewer might travel the world looking for home repair services. But when there is a pattern of similar reviewers leaving reviews on similar businesses over a similar time frame it is more than coincidence.
9 – Tubbe D. Vann left reviews for the a moving company. And you have to love Pippin Sackville, who also did business with Sanderson Windows in UK and funny… the same garage opener company in Australia. He happens to have the exact same profile at The Perfect Man on Twitter. Google’s review filter might not be working correctly but a Google image search correctly guessed that the profile photo belonged to Marco Drapper, who I have no idea who he is. At least one of the folks doing this is having fun.
As a side note to my footnote (is that even possible?) a bit of Lord of the Rings trivia: Camellia Sackville was the daughter of the head of the Sackville Family. She married Longo Baggins, the son of Mungo Baggins.
10 – Here is a list of 60 reviewers that I have initially identified as having an obvious pattern. They have each reviewed between 10 and 50 businesses (I found a larger number of “unseasoned” reviewers that have left between 2 and 10 that I also suspect of being in the ring). There is some overlap but for just these initial findings and these few reviewers we are talking 1200 or so businesses and perhaps 25000 fake reviews. The number though likely goes quite a bit higher than that as I have just begun to scratch the surface.
11 – OK its past time.
12 – Google and I are in disagreement as to the definition of fake listings. Then naturally, we are in disagreement as to the meaning of its opposite; real listings.
© Copyright 2023 - MIKE BLUMENTHAL, ALL RIGHT RESERVED.
Google won’t do a Darn thing to remove it!!
I am hoping the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There is a lot of negative press planned to help move the needle.
TNX, interesting article about spam on Google Maps!
Google claims that these reviews and similar ones like them, do not violate their TOS. Howere these reviews are illegal are subject to a fine by FTC. If paid links are wrong with Google, why are paid reviews ok or allowed? The problem with fake reviews is that consumers are able to be taken advantage of when real negative reviews are pushed down with 90 fake 5 star reviews. One of the business I am monitoring, 70% of their reviews are fake. One reviewer is James Kevin, the actor with his name reversed and using his picture for the profile.
This goes well beyond fake reviews. This is Google’s own users be taken advantage of, lied to and ripped off. I have seen these same fake reviewers leave negative reviews for competitors too. This has implications for class action lawsuits or to have major brands start publicly complaining about Google’s horrible review practice.
Revenge Reviews. Yes, I have them on my GMB page. I left a 1-star review for a photo company 2 years ago. Last month I received 2, 1-star reviews within a few minutes of one another. I flagged them, waited 30 days, called Big G showed them the proof that both reviews left 5-star reviews for the photo company right after my 1-star reviews. They are still there! I’m guessing all the photo company did was hire a fake review company.
Unbelievable – or maybe believable Here’s a lady that has moved several times and has the reviews to “prove” it! https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-59.2601205,3z
Yes Ladine Eastwood is a favorite of mine! Although you have to sympathize with the number of moves the poor woman had to make.
I would like to contact Google to report some fake reviews that a competitor has on his profile. This person used to work for my husband & is attempting to hijack his entire business! He has plagiarized, stolen contacts & undercut his service prices! My husbands business has been top ranking for many years & because this guy has been riding on my husbands coat tails, he is ranking on top. Of course he’s using fake reviews, even writing them for himself!
I plan on taking him down – HONESTLY, of course! I refuse to lower myself to his standards. So, who do I contact at Google???
Several of those businesses are in my radar already. Meal prep in San Diego, driving school in Indiana. I am shocked she hasn’t eat in Detroit and bought appliances in Austin.
This is best blog post I ever read. Mike is best blogger and Google My Business trackr. I have found tremendous information by following Mr. Mike Blumenthal. Five star rating for sure definitely.
Clearly you are a topical expert. I might just suggest your name (again (and again)) to more of those expert round up posts.
In some countries, there are government agencies that take action against companies that do this. (I’m not a lawyer, but) I do believe this is misleading, bordering on fraud.
So I wonder if Google is taking the ostrich approach to reviews. If consumer agencies don’t deal with the companies, they won’t either.
I recently checked the listing of the Dentist who had the misfortune to hunt the wrong animal. His listing is still getting negative reviews posted. Google still leaves the listing there as a wonderful target for anyone having a bad day.
But to be fair, tons of online review sites are in the same boat. They want the kudos for having customer reviews, but not the responsibility of managing them.
Maybe the old fashioned yellow pages weren’t quite so bad after all 😉
I think it’s a slippery slope for Google to police reviews. Yelp does a better job when it comes to businesses in news. The major issue is Google keeps preaching about user experience and it’s users. Who are the users that allowing fake reviews to remain are intended for? Its not just a Google issue, I am seeing the same businesses listed here having glowing reviews on Groupon, Superpages, YP and others. Fake news is being talked about and now fake reviewss needs its 15 minutes of fame. I will keep chipping away until something changes. I’m like a bulldog that way.
I love how the reviews for German based companies are written in German (and good German too, not bad high-school level German) by all the reviewers.
I couldn’t find the Australian companies you mentioned Mike (maybe the reviews have been removed?) but if anyone does find Australian companies in this network please let me know. Our Competition and Consumer Commission is pretty strict about fake reviews and I may be able to get them to take action against Australian companies.
(Of course I’ll start digging in the network myself and adding to the spreadsheet too. This is fun!)
@Priya yes the austraian ones seem to be gone.
If you want a list of companies in Australia email me. My address is on my website. I will give you a list.
I’ve been working with an enterprise client (2300) locations, that has had thousands of fake star ratings left on their business listings over the last several weeks. We’re talking many instances of a single “user” with a made up name (e.g. “Biscuits & Gravy”) leaving 4 and 5 star ratings for 10-30+ locations across multiple states over a period of 1-2 days. They don’t even leave review text in most cases and Google does not catch them.
I put together spreadsheets of fake reviewer profiles and have sent them over to Google and they did remove the fake star ratings for my client, but did not ban the users/reviewers, so they are still leaving star ratings for other businesses.
This seems like the lowest hanging fruit possible for any sort of review spam filter to catch, i.e. one user leaving a large volume of star ratings over a short period of time and a very large geographical area.
My client is dumbfounded and can’t seem to track down who within their organization is doing this, if it’s indeed an inside job, which must be the case given the positive star ratings. Location managers? Some stray SEO agency a regional manager hired? They are understandably concerned that one day Google will implement a more stringent review filter and they will be penalized if they don’t address it now. For this reason, I don’t think businesses should be penalized for fake reviews, but Google should certainly improve their review filter. I know Yelp gets flak for an over-zealous review filter, but Google doesn’t seem to have one at all.
“but I think that it is time to penalize businesses that use them as well”
That’s a tough call. As soon as it becomes transparent that Google is punishing businesses with reviews that follow a pattern you can discern, be sure that those same companies will be able to devise negative SEO campaigns to get innocent businesses “punished”.
I agree, its a slippery slope. Could there be some causalities in the clean up process, yes. It might put more pressure on companies to monitor their business listing and monitor reviews. Hopeful a system will be put in place where business owners can easily report fake 4 and 5 star reviews to prevent a penalty. It was past time for Google to take some form of action and start cleaning up the mess. I reported one user multiple times for leaving negative reviews that violated Google’s TOS. If swear words violates Google’s TOS, why does a user have to report it to Google? I have reported Kim Jong Un’s reviews and the user reposts more vulgar ones. Check out the Church of Scientology of Los Angeles and count the fake negative reviews and see how many of them clearly violate Google’s TOS. Its not just fake 4 and 5 star reviews, its 1 and 2 stars as well.
Maybe it is a tough call. It wouldn’t be a tough call to turn them over to the FTC & State Attorney general for investigations into violations. Or to do what Yelp does which to publicly shame companies that they suspect of abuse.
Another sad and neglected underside of the search world. But I have to admit I LOL’ed embarrassingly in the office at part 2 of footnote 9.
You and Prya both get bonus points for having read the footnotes thouroughly.
I find providing them allows my meandering thoughts to be “channeled” into a semblance of order.
I don’t know if it is just me, but it seems like in the recent weeks, there has been quite a cry for fixing the issue with fake reviews. I wrote a blog article last month about it, and sadly tried to coin a new hashtag #ReviewCloaking which has an appearance of being a real review, but in the end is fake. Sorry, back to your article, You’d think that Google is in the works to step it up with these fake reviews. Anyway, Mike thanks for yet another amazing article!
for others here is the article that Nate wrote: #ReviewCloaking
I was able to find the business and left feedback on it. I don’t think the business used as an illustration fits the businesses that are faking reviews.
Just incredible. It seems already Google has deleted many of the reviews from the users mentioned in this article, but not banned a single user yet, and many of them are merrily chugging along leaving new fake reviews!
Google won’t ban or delete a user account as it is connected to Gmail, G+ and Youtube. I have reported the same user on multiple occasions and the troll keeps posting nasty reviews that violate Google’s TOS. I feel its because its a numbers game or vanity metrics. We have X amount of users… We know that not all of the users and accounts are real.
Good article and I’m glad I stumbled across it. This is on the same level as fake reviews on large shopping sites too. It really creates dissolution for people that don’t know these are paid reviews.
I was happy to see that most of the reviews by the users mentioned in the article have been removed 🙂
Hi Mike, really good post and very insightful. I agree completely, what’s the use of seeing ratings if half or all of them are fake, it really makes it so much harder for trustworthy legit businesses out there. I’ve reported multiple sites recently for spam, and nothing happens, like blatant direct spam to a main page. Yet the website I reported ranks top for most competitive keywords in their industry. So ridiculous to be honest. Come on Google put some sneakers on penguin and start penalizing those public networks again!
OMG It just never ends with Google does it!
Soon you will not be able to rank for any local business, unless you are using Google as registrar, using Google web hosting and building your website with their CMS.
Then it will be having to verify your home address before you you can even buy a domain from them, LOL.
I wish they would just target all the businesses using fake reviews and PBN’s to rank at local level properly before sticking their finger in every other pie!
I know a company that has their clients mail in digitize paper comments cards by creating fake profiles and infact until recently they had a call in your review feature on their website.
Google does nothing .
Nice, looks like Google finally stepped in. Now Shazedur Rahman only has 2 reviews! haha.
A review engine provides a service, mostly not requested. If the engine is not bulletproof against fake reviews, then it can be used to damage businesses.
If the company providing the review engine cannot guarantee its reliability, then it is instrumental to causing damage to businesses. As such, it should/could be sued for damages regardless of how much it hides behind the “it’s not against our own guidelines” crap.
I am amazed that no class action for being instrumental against the various Glassdoor, Google My Business, etc has never been started.
This is how i look at it.
Google and all UGC sites are categorically protected under Federal law (Section 230). So regardless of harm done you can’t sue
You are right Mike.
Even if they could be sued… they just got fined $5,000,000,000 in Europe for violating their laws apparently and this is chunk change to them. I wonder why in name of quality of results and user experience they do not spend a little bit on stopping this review nonsense.
Honestly, what is an SEO to do when a competitor of my client does this? Has Google left me any legitimate means to not be forced to do the same just to keep up? Is there anyone at Google North America that can be contacted in any way to handle this or did Google hand this stuff out to overseas branches eons ago? Their GMB support has also fallen in quality significantly over the years :(, they are literally the too big and too faceless to care type of company now. I really do hope something gives in this regard especially after all this troll-farm-political business that is happening… but from the looks of it, the only legitimate option left and exercised even by US military is to hire troll farms of your own or create some kind of technology that does it without being caught, which US Air Force reportedly has been doing for years now.
The question is, who IS good at this stuff? Apparently, nobody!
And in that power vacuum, trash has risen in force.
Look, Amazon, Facebook, and Yelp all suffer from nearly identical problems, and none have found a fool proof method. Yelp overpowers new reviewers whom legit businesses ask to leave them a review, filtering them out for weeks, months or years until that user becomes more active on Yelp.
Google, Facebook and Amazon might as well admit they have 0 controls in place, because if they call this control, it is shoddy and they are being ripped off for its cost, it’s literally not doing the one job it has. If it’s a person, go ahead and replace them. If it’s an algorithm, throw it away, own up to the mess, and start anew. Maybe even disable reviews for a month or two to kill these nasty scammers. Just pause review system while a full audit is conducted. Your reputation is already poor with supporting and enabling entire SCAM INDUSTRIES. The part that is legit, is snooping on every facet of life of every last one of your users and customers. So what do you have to lose Google… wish somebody effective there could read this comment.
Small business are scammed to death by people who are doing this, who often even claim to call directly from Google. And Google is doing virtually nothing about it leaving it for legit marketers and scammers to battle it out and looks like many scammy ways seem to win for long enough a period to be worth the price to the average Joe running his small business, thus making life harder than it needs to be for those who try to do legitimate business.
There are troll law firms that sue people over patents. I am sure if Google decided they can find one of those law firms that can then track and shut down these people ACTIVELY and forever. I am sure Nigeria and India, two hotspot sources of all kinds of online scamming in name of globalist entrepreneurship have some semblance of legal systems and law firms that can be used to stifle this crap at the root. Google after all has offices in many such countries and if it decided, it could easily spend a little cash to do this and just kill one of their pet projects that never get anywhere like Orkut to pay for this crap.
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