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By Contributed photo
BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist
Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.
Dear Action Line,
My wife and I are thinking of trying a new restaurant that just opened. The last time we did that, we decided not to try another new restaurant until it had been in business long enough to have some customer reviews posted online. Let's suffice it to say that our dining experience was less than satisfactory.
Then, my wife's sister tells me that we should be careful whom we trust because there is this thing out there called astroturfing. Have you ever heard of it?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. It's an individual posting to a public forum under an assumed name
If astroturfing is done by many individuals or someone that is hired to create fake reviews, it can give the reader the illusion that there is widespread support of the restaurant or other type of business for which the fake reviews have been created. It's no secret that there are people that get paid to write fake reviews. Astroturfing has been used to promote products, political candidates, book reviews, online surveys and businesses. No topic could really be excluded. Remember, just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it is true.
If you are looking for customer reviews on a new restaurant, how do you know they are real? Most of the time, astroturfing takes place on forums of comment sections of blogs and newspaper sites.
There is no way to be 100 percent sure that the reviews you are reading have not been created by an astroturfer. Read the reviews anyway. Yelp tells us that if you can't see someone saying it in a normal conversation, chances are it's bogus. Avoid the cliches and search for details. Watch for incorrect spelling and punctuation.
Check with bbb.org FIRST. The BBB Business Review can give you great information on the company in question. You can find out if there are any complaints, and lots of other factual information about the company. You can also check with your local city licensing agency to make sure it is properly registered, as well as your local health department. If your local newspaper has one, see if its food critic has done a review.
After you have done your research, ask your friends if they have tried the new restaurant.
Get a takeout menu to see if the menu choices appeal to your taste buds.
Give the new place a chance! Maybe you will have discovered your new favorite restaurant. Bon appetit!
Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H. St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.