Fake reviews are nothing new and happen in almost every country. The problem is just as bad in Morocco where Booking.com and Trip Advisor are well known for glowing reviews posted by staff and family members and damming reviews from competitors. Several riads in Fez are known for their extravagant fake reviews - sadly few get named publicly
Australian visitor Tania Wittensleger from Melbourne recently received an email thanking her for a review that she hadn't written.
According to a report carried by the online Daily Mail Tania Wittensleger used Booking.com to book the Palais El Yazid hotel in Fes, Morocco, for a three-night stay with her partner.
The pair ended up checking out early and on returning to Melbourne Ms Wittensleger was shocked to receive an email thanking her for her positive review of the hotel on the Booking.com website.
|The fake review|
She said she selected the Palais El Yazid hotel in part because of other favourable reviews, which read: 'All in all a very good hotel. Lovely staff ... that is keen on fulfilling even special requests.'
In her real review, Ms Wittensleger said her trip was blighted by the discovery of bed bugs.
Booking.com only lets verified guests log in and leave reviews, but Ms Wittensleger remembered that a manager at the hotel had photographed her confirmation email. She later realised that her PIN and booking reference contained in the email were used to log in to her booking on the site and post a review.
|The genuine review|
On Facebook, Ms Wittensleger told friends she was 'absolutely disgusted' this had happened.
She wrote: 'The [review] was clearly not written by me and when I went back and read other reviews which helped me in my own selection, I realised that they sounded a lot like my forged review.'
Moroccan news site Yabiladi reports that employees of a number of Moroccan hotels have hacked the email addresses of foreign customers to post positive reviews.
The security flaw in the Booking.com system which allows imposters to change or cancel a hotel booking, or even leave a fake review was first identified by MoneySavingExpert.com.
She now knows the PIN number and booking reference contained in that email were used to log in to her booking on the site and write a review after she'd checked out.
A spokesperson for Booking.com said: "The manager at the accommodation did indeed break the rules by photographing Ms Wittensleger’s booking confirmation and subsequently using the information collected (including the reservation ID and PIN code) to fraudulently leave a review on her behalf. We contacted the hotel in Morocco and received a response from the owner. He said he had been out of the country for several months, blamed the issues on those managing the hotel in his absence and said he had now cancelled the "management contract". He added: “I assure you it will never happen again.”
|The PIN should be confidential|
Booking.com says "Your PIN code is the 4-digit number on your booking confirmation, which in combination with your booking number, allows you to log in to 'MyBooking.com'. On ‘MyBooking.com’ you can view, change or cancel your booking. Please keep your PIN code confidential."
When asked about the issue of the PIN code Booking.com responded, "Customers do not need to show their actual booking confirmation when they check in at a property, as the property should always have the name for the reservation on file."
ABTA, the UK’s largest travel association, says: “Members of the public have become increasingly reliant on customer reviews when choosing their holiday arrangements and it is incredibly important that they should be able to trust these reviews. The ABTA would expect that travel companies should have adequate procedures in place to prevent false posts and take immediate action when they have evidence that abuse is taking place. Inaccurate, false reviews don’t just mislead the public - they also drive business away from legitimate, honest businesses.”
Another way to spot a fake review is to check out the style of language used - or misused! The unusually extravagant praise of a hotel's staff is often a giveaway. In the recent case in Fez, one review raved that "breakfast was delicious" and had been served by one staff member who was "phlegmatic and sympathetic" and another who was an "easygoing and trustworthy polyglot".
Another enthused about a staff member who was "beyond helpful. He is witty, funny, wants to make sure you have a great time and has a very good heart (...) we truly found another brother from a different mother." All phrases that are not in common use.