A few years ago, Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC exposed 2 garage door technicians in an undercover sting operation trying to sell a customer something they very much didn’t need. It now appears that there is more going on than just one rogue technician.
Over the last couple of days I have identified a large amount of fake online reviews on various Precision Garage Door franchises. Not only are these reviews obvious fakes, but the person or persons responsible got lazy and cut corners during the process of posting these reviews, and left quite a trail of breadcrumbs.
Lets start here: Precision Garage Door of San Diego
If you scroll all the way down on this page, you will see a review from Martine T Wayne. This account reviewed Precision Garage door of San Diego and another company named American Air Conditioning & Heating in Inglewood, CA. One good tip off was where Martine wrote: “RUBEN, one of their technicians who came to visit last 3/18/11 is a good example.” Leaving a review 3 years later seems fishy, lets keep digging.
American Ac has 21 reviews, nearly all 5 star. If you scroll down to just below the review from Martine, you will find another faceless reviewer named Kristin J Stringfield. Kristin J Stringfield had reviewed American Air Conditioning & Heating and…. Wait for it…. Precision Door Service of Fremont, CA.
This is already looking quite bad, but it does get worse.
Kristin is friends with Stephanie Crum. A simple reverse image search of her profile picture shows other Google+ pages that she is connected with. Jamee Fratesi – Precision Garage Door of Austin, Precision Garage Door of Houston. Carly Robinson – Precision Garage Door of Austin.
Its worth mentioning that Yelp.com is showing that the Austin location is closed. With two 5-star reviews and six 1-star reviews, I can see why. One Yelper named Keith R said
“The tech gave me two choices – try to get parts from the manufacture, and install myself or buy his new $500 opener.”
This is the exact same upsell scam that the “rogue technician” tried to pull and was busted on camera by Chris Hansen on Dateline NBC. Except the sting on Dateline was in Arizona, and this is in Austin Texas.
That’s not the end of it either. If you go back to Martine T Wayne, you can see that Martine is friends with Chris Keller. Chris Keller is friends with 11 people. All 11 of those people reviewed Precision Overhead Door of Las Vegas.
All in total, more than 5 locations with many fake reviews on each. The process takes a while to check every review, each reviewers connections, and the other businesses that they also reviewed. Those businesses are now suspect and will likely be a big clue in identifying the person or organization that ties them all together.
Once I had all of this information, I reached out to Precision Holdings of Brevard in Titusville, FL. Bill Walden, President/COO of Precision Holdings has not returned my calls so I can only assume they are declining to comment on the story.
Kevin Spratt however, is a franchise owner of Seattle, Spokane, San Diego and Salt Lake City, to name a few. I asked Kevin Spratt if he had any comment as to why there are fake reviews on his San Diego location that have direct ties to Precision Door in Fremont CA, Houston and Las Vegas.
He responded via email:
“I can’t comment on any markets but the ones I own and control, which San Diego is the only one on your list. My new internet company brought to my attention that someone was placing suspicious reviews on my Google plus. After researching we were able to trace it back to a consultant that I had hired. He was told to remove them which he did but I was not aware of this one review. We have since parted ways with this consultant. I don’t condone reviews from any other source then my customers, i provide a good customer experience and my customers leave my company the reviews that support that. I hope that helps explain the situation. Thanks”
I asked him who the consultant was:
“I am in San Diego so getting the info is a little tough.”
This absolutely could be the work of rogue consultant who cut corners. If Kevin Spratt did indeed hire a consultant like he said he did, and the consultant is responsible for the fake reviews in San Diego, then why is that consultant posting fake reviews in Las Vegas or Fremont?
So who posted the reviews?
Someone posted these various fake reviews, and they didn’t do it for fun. Everyone defines fun differently, but I am quite positive that there is not a group of people who sit around on a Friday night posting fake 5 star reviews on companies like some sort of Fraternal Order of Review Fairies, spreading joy and goodwill on national garage door franchises. Whoever did this was paid to post these reviews.
It’s not my job to find the exact person who posted these reviews. I am going to leave that up to the authorities.
Why was I looking at this stuff in the first place?
That’s an excellent question. Over the past year, I have been researching online fraud, specifically on Google+, Yahoo Local, Apple Maps, Yelp, and other websites like these. I just released my first book “Cyber Fraud: The Web of Lies” on Amazon.com two weeks ago and it talks about this very subject.
So far this book has received glowing praise from my mother and literally dozen of people. It goes into depth into review fraud, fake businesses, puppet accounts, and even shows you a whole network of fake businesses that had over 10,000 fake reviews written by a Hollywood screenwriter a few years ago.
Some of the things I did to expose this type of fraud in the past might end up biting me in the ass, and should I end up in prison for intercepting calls to the Secret Service via Google maps, then my second book will likely be a cookbook. I’m thinking “Eating Healthy While in Solitary”. I’m hoping to get Bernie Madoff to co-write it and perhaps Martha Stewart to write the foreword.
I am entertaining the idea of doing this on a regular basis, because even in the last week while researching for this story, I have found several other fake review networks that appear to be the work of shady SEO companies. These SEO companies are posting hundreds if not thousands of fake reviews, and spamming the various directories with fake locksmiths, fake carpet cleaners, fake moving companies, and the list goes on and on.
Someone needs to clean up what Google and these other companies seem to be unable / unwilling to. So whether you are a totally shady SEO company that posts reviews online for your customers, or you are a small business owner just trying to get to the top of rankings, stop posting fake reviews. I could write an article like this everyday, so this could work out for both of us if you don’t stop. I’m about to make you famous.
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