Citymove Pty Ltd (Citymove) has paid penalties totalling $30,600 following the issue of three infringement notices by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The ACCC issued the infringement notices because it had reasonable grounds to believe Citymove made false or misleading representations concerning testimonials about its furniture removal services that were published on the social network website Google+ and on YouTube, in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.
The infringement notices relate to allegations that Citymove used fabricated customer identities to post two testimonials on Google+ and one testimonial on YouTube.
Posting positive testimonials and attributing them to fabricated customers can increase overall ratings on Google+. Testimonials on Google+ also appear in Google Search results. Citymove’s overall rating featured prominently on the first page of Google Search results for removalists within particular locations.
“Consumers should be able to trust that testimonials online are posted by genuine consumers about genuine experiences. Businesses that post testimonials using fabricated customer identities risk enforcement action by the ACCC,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.
“Fake testimonials can mislead consumers and disadvantage competing businesses. Falsely generated ratings may lead a consumer to purchase a business’s product or service under a mistaken belief about the popularity and perceived quality of the business, in preference to other businesses,” Dr Schaper said.
“The ACCC encourages consumers to seek information from multiple sources before making a purchasing decision,” Dr Schaper said.
The ACCC identified the Citymove testimonials as being potentially false or misleading when the same testimonial appeared on different review websites under different customer identities.
This is the second occasion in recent years in which the ACCC has issued infringement notices against Citymove. In 2011 Citymove paid a penalty of $6,600 after the issue of an infringement notice by the ACCC, and provided a court enforceable undertaking to the ACCC, after allegedly publishing false consumer testimonials on a website created by Citymove called movingreview.com.au.
The payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the Australia Consumer Law. The ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer protection laws.