Los Angeles Business Journal

Edmunds.com Takes on Texas Firm Over Fake Reviews

By Natalie Jarvey Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Car review and shopping website Edmunds.com Inc. has sued a Texas company for allegedly creating fake accounts to post reviews of car dealers on the Edmunds website.

In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Texas, Edmunds claims that Humankind Design Ltd. in Friendswood, Texas, committed fraud and breach of contract, among other allegations, when it created more than 2,000 accounts on Edmunds.com to post positive reviews of car dealers.

The suit said these reviews "do not reflect an actual experience of any person, but rather are entirely fabricated to lure new customers to the dealerships that are the subject of the fictitious 'glowing' reviews."

Edmunds also alleges that Humankind, which operates a review website called GlowingReviews.com, was aware that posting fake reviews violated the Edmunds membership agreement.

"When we saw that their own website promoted this activity and that they weren't making a secret of it, we decided we had to take an aggressive action against them," said Ken Levin, Edmunds' general counsel.

Edmunds.com publishes articles with car-buying tips, information about new and used cars and user reviews. According to the company, employees read all reviews before approving them for the website.

Levin said those employees began to notice several reviews that looked fake and traced them back to Humankind. He added that the company believes it did not publish any of the alleged fake reviews.

Humankind owner Justin Anderson told Bloomberg News Tuesday morning that he had not yet seen the lawsuit. He also denied posting fake reviews. The company, he said, transcribes and posts reviews left on comment cards at dealerships.

Edmunds has sent a copy of its lawsuit to a number of other review websites that GlowingReviews.com lists as supported sites. They include San Francisco's Yelp Inc. and West Hollywood's Citysearch.com.

Yelp recently sued website BuyYelpReview.com alleging that the company's paid review model violated its terms of service.

Levin said fake reviews are becoming increasingly problematic for companies such as Edmunds as more people look online to make purchasing decisions.

"It's a problem not only for Edmunds but for all websites that publish consumer reviews," he said. "Every website is looking to maintain the integrity of the information provided and looking to stop people who are trying to undermine the usefulness of the consumer reviews."

Edmunds has asked for damages in addition to temporary and permanent injunctions against Humankind.