Those who look for products and services on the Internet will inevitably receive recommendations. Sometimes they are exuberant. But fraudsters regularly get involved. Critical consumers should be well aware of this, because various reports have repeatedly pointed out the maladministration. The major online platforms, where asterisk advice and customer reviews can be found, combat the abuse of rating systems. However, with moderate success. This is shown by a research published by zdf magazine “Frontal 21”.
The editorial team relies not least on an informant who, according to his own information, works for the marketing company Goldstar and discloses their methods with business documents. According to the papers, for example, a lawyer has bought 100 reviews for 703 euros. An internet review attested to this good value for money. However, a victim interviewed by ZDF complained about an excessive fee, which the lawyer had demanded.
A plastic surgeon also received very good marks on the medical agency Jameda, although dozens of people had sued the doctor. ZDF also describes in detail the case of a young woman who had her nose operated on and then had complaints. This doctor had also acquired positive reviews from Goldstar: 100 pieces for 879 euros.
The dubious services meet with a great demand. If you buy reviews, you can specify the desired texts at the same time. They are published in the same text as the ZDF magazine shows in a test. The editors created a nonsensical product – a bag of sea sand, which should have a beneficial effect on the indoor climate. After an application with purchased reviews, it immediately found sales for 4.99 euros – the money was refunded to the buyers after the end of the test.
On Goldstar’s website, the CEO appears in a video. However, this is an actor who confirms this in a statement to ZDF. The editors went in search of those responsible, came across a company in Cyprus and a difficult-to-see network of companies. Eventually, she found a real estate dealer who worked in Mallorca and Berlin and, according to the whistleblower, became rich with the recommendation sales. He declined to comment on the allegations, even when a camera crew visited him unannounced.
On the website of Goldstar you can now find a short statement on the ZDF research, which, however, only highlights a side aspect. The statement ends with the teasing remark that there is a 20 percent discount on the next order under the note “Discount Code ZDF”. What shows: Vendors of purchased recommendations do not have too much to fear.
Against the law
In the ZDF report, the President of the Federal Cartel Office, Andreas Mundt, takes a position: he calls these practices unfair competition. But in the fight against such violations of the law, his hands are tied. However, there is a court ruling against the marketing company Fivestar. A year ago, the Munich District Court found that purchased fake reviews were illegal. At the time, the holiday portal Holidaycheck had filed a lawsuit against Fivestar Marketing. The latter was prohibited from selling reviews from people who did not stay in a particular hotel. There was also a need to know who had invented the reviews.
A month ago, Frontal 21 dealt with dubious recommendation practices. At that time it was about seals of quality in the German health care system, which are awarded under the name of the Burda magazine “Focus”. However, the award-winners do not have to pay little for this. ZDF cites examples that cast doubt on the seriousness of the qualifications. In 2017, for example, a doctor was called a “recommended radiologist”, although she has been working as a homeopath rather than a radiologist since 1998. A paediatrician and adolescent doctor, on the other hand, was recommended first as a psychotherapist and later as a family doctor.