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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Yelp Sues to Stop Bogus, Paid Reviews

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Yelp asked a federal judge to stop the creators of a website that allegedly offered business owners four- and five-star reviews for a monthly subscription fee.

Yelp sued Edward James Herzstock, Alec Farwell, and Melissa Scheinwald, all of Los Angeles County, and their companies YelpDirector, Revpley, and Revleap. It seeks damages for trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition, false advertising, cybersquatting and other charges.

Yelp says it discovered in November 2013 that the defendants were running a website called yelpdirector.com, which claimed to have software that allowed business owners to "proactively generate a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews from your customers in a way that make them stick to the front page of Yelp."

Yelp says those claims are false: that the defendants had no way of getting good reviews to "stick" to Yelp or the ability to remove bad reviews.

The defendants also sent spam emails and texts promoting their services, Yelp says.

One text said: "Hey ... do you need help getting your good reviews to stick to Yelp? I can also remove bad reviews ...,' according to the complaint.

Yelp says it sent a cease-and-desist letter, but the defendants created two new websites - revpley.com and revleap.com - which make similar claims as Yelpdirector.

The site yelpdirector.com now automatically redirects to revleap.me.

Revleap.me's website states that as of Feb. 17 it had generated more than 1 million positive reviews. Yelp calls the statement a false advertisement.

In one scheme, Yelp says, the defendants sent out promotional business surveys with offers for gift cards. If the survey was positive, the defendants would provide the respondent with a link to the business's Yelp site to write a review. But because the endorsements were incentivized by the opportunity to win a gift card, they're illegal, Yelp says.

Yelp accuses the defendants of breaching "numerous" provisions of its terms of service, and of infringing on its trademark by prominently displaying its logo in their advertising.

Herzstock and Farwell are co-founders of the sites, and Scheinwald is vice president of development, according to the lawsuit.

Yelp is represented by Zachary Alinder with Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco. It seeks actual, statutory and punitive damages.

Contact Arvin Temkar at [email protected]

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