A Blackpool legal firm has reported an increase in the number of its leisure industry clients affected by ‘fake’ online reviews.
Now Napthens Solicitors is warning action can be taken against businesses or individuals which leave such reviews about competitors.
The warning follows the announcement of an investigation into fake reviews by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Kelly Mather, solicitor in the Litigation team at Napthens, says she has had a ‘surprising’ number of inquiries from businesses in Lancashire who fear they have been the victim of such reviews.
She said: “Online reviews have become one of the most relied upon sources when consumers are deciding what to purchase, for instance when booking a hotel room or a table at a restaurant.
“Although it can be an extremely beneficial tool to share positive testimonials and help to promote a business, it can also be easily abused.
“If such a review has a negative impact on a business, then it may be possible to claim damages, which will vary depending on the level of damage judged to have been caused.
“We have seen a number of inquiries about such practices, and businesses with concerns about this worrying trend should contact their legal advisor for guidance.”
Blackpool hotelier Adrian Smirthwaite is taking legal advice after erroneous reviews about his guesthouse, The Albany on Albert Road, were put on Trip Advisor.
He said: “I contacted Trip Advisor but it was a few weeks before they were taken down even though the comments were clearly not in relation to my business.”
A spokesman for Trip Advisor said they had procedures in place to deal with incidents such as Mr Smirthwaite had experienced.
He said the reviewer would be contacted about their comments and given a certain amount of time to reply.
The spokesman added: “When we get confirmation of a mistake we then take down the erroneous reviews as we have done with a couple already in this case.”
Figures released by the Copmetition and Markets Authority reveal approximately 54 per cent of adults use online reviews with an estimated £23bn spent by consumers influenced by review sites.
The organisation is now looking into misleading practices.