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Fans of fraud: The web hosting industry

Wed, 14th October 2009, 19:54

Fans of fraud: The web hosting industry

The web hosting industry has always been a particularly interesting one. With the combination of low barriers of entry, low cost and the ability to even launch companies with a mere $100 (Hostgator, a prime example, was built on $100 that the CEO Brent Oxley received as a Christmas gift) and scale them into multimillion dollar entities but it also leaves the industry ripe with failed shells of endeavors, companies that disappear overnight and at the top of the pile: Fraud. And no doubt it's largely in part due to the anonymity of the internet, lack of restrictions & guidelines and legal reprocussions -- still, there's hundreds of companies making great names for themselves and all the same doing their clients a great service. We rarely detail the latter, I admit, solely because the former makes for a better read.

Other than the odd article regarding downtime, companies being bought and sold and the once-in-a-bluemoon fraud review post, we rarely come across companies that will go out of their way to propagate fraud or worse: Use their own client's names to post fake reviews. Today we've come across one of these exceptional cases of companies gone wrong. And of course we're not ones to let it go without reprocussions.

At Hostjury we've had frequent fake web hosting reviews being posted -- we remove at least 25% of the posts made on our site on a daily basis. Even worse, sometimes companies even offer to pay us to remove negative reviews, a request I find disturbing. Something I've never comprehended though is why a firm will go out of their way to pay an employee or team member to post fake reviews and not simply take the time to improve on their hosting service. It escapes me how much easier it would be to answer the odd support request, invest in higher quality infrastructure and in the end sleep better at night knowing you're doing the right thing and reduce your own problems in the meantime, increase company longevity and help people.

We've caught several firms in the past posting fake reviews including ipowerweb, AISO, surpass hosting & several others that'll remain unnamed but this time around it wasn't just a mere fake review. This firm actually went out of their way to use one of their clients' actual names during the posting process. If anything, it's a simple case of fraud, but it shows a complete lack of respect for their own clientele. I'll get into their specific case later on in the post..

Who tends to be behind fake reviews
The rather odd trend I have been seeing lately is that there's no particular type of firm or age group that propagates fake reviews. If anything, it's such a diverse range that there's no particular way to class firms that are involved in such tactics (Other than calling them fraudsters). We've had companies that range from 200,000+ domains to 10 domains posting them -- ipowerweb / ipower being the largest we've caught thusfar. In most cases it seems that the larger the firm, the higher up in ranks the fraudster tends to be. We've caught VPs of marketing / sales redhanded in a number of instances down to smaller companies whose own CEOs or founders are involved.

Why do they post fake reviews
It's obvious why hosting firms would go out of their way to post fake reviews. In a lot of cases companies will post fake reviews in order to boost their signup rates, reputation online and save on advertising costs. Afterall, if they can gain clients out of a few fake reviews a day -- why advertise on google, actually put effort into the service & increase their quality to generate word of mouth signups.

So, who'd you catch this time, Hostjury?
This time we caught a firm we'd actually been watching for a number of years because of the fake reviews they've been posting on third party sites. Just recently we had a number of their reviews start showing up on our own site. The company in this particular case was PolurNet, and out of three reviews they've posted all three turned out to be clients who explicitly stated outright that they had nothing to do with the reviews. One particular PolurNet client had actually spent most of this past weekend scouring the web trying to remove reviews PolurNet had posted pretending to be the client. PolurNet has almost 200 other reviews posted on another site that'll remain unnamed but myself & a few others have always suspected them to be fake. Now we know.

(We'll post screenshots if necessary but this particular PolurNet client requested anonymity.)
Hostjury is a fantastic source for PolurNet reviews and news.