SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Edmunds filed a lawsuit this morning against Humankind Design Ltd., a Texas-based online reputation management company, for allegedly posting fraudulent reviews to its website. The car-shopping site seeks injunctive relief — prohibiting Humankind from submitting additional registrations or reviews to the site.
Edmunds’ General Counsel Ken Levin said the company’s screeners detected the fake reviews before they were ever posted. Through that process, he explained Edmunds discovered approximately 2,200 fraudulent accounts linked to Humankind, the parent company of GlowingReviews.co. From those accounts, Levin said the firm attempted to post at least 76 reviews on behalf of 25 dealerships nationwide.
As of press time, Justin Anderson, owner of Humankind and the defendant named in the suit, had yet to be served the petition, but he denied allegations his company created or submitted fake reviews. “We don’t write the reviews or invent the reviews,” he told F&I and Showroom this morning. “We’re posting, to our knowledge, a bona fide review.”
As for the disparity between the number of registered accounts and actual posts, Levin pointed out GlowingReviews advertises on its site that it pre-registers accounts across the review sites in order to “age” them, which essentially helps to legitimize future postings.
“There are companies in the reputation management business that are legitimate and help dealerships get reviews posted from real customers with real experiences,” Levin said. “We don't know whether the dealerships using Humankind thought that's what they were getting. ... [GlowingReviews] is pretty clear on its website about what they do. It doesn't take much to see what its business model is.”
To preserve the security of Edmunds’ screening methods, Levin could not disclose exactly how fraud was detected in the reportedly false reviews. It was unclear whether the affected dealers had knowledge of the alleged fraud, but Levin said Edmunds would be reaching out to them to discuss the matter.
In the complaint, Edmunds also charged Humankind with trademark infringement. On its homepage, GlowingReviews boasts a list of 15 popular companies hosting consumer reviews. Names include Google+, Yelp, Cars.com, DealerRater and Edmunds.
In an e-mailed statement, DealerRater officials confirmed they are not aware of any success from Humankind to post reviews to its site, but the team is reviewing the specifics of the lawsuit and continuing to monitor the situation.
It is unclear whether the other review websites have experienced similar issues with fraudulent reviews from the company.
“They are using our trademark on their website, and the way they use it suggested that we might be working with them,” Levin said. “So it's a very serious mistake on their part.”
Anderson declined to comment on Edmunds’ direct claims of trademark infringement, but he did offer this comment: “If we’re infringing on their trademark, we definitely don’t want to be doing that.”
— Stephanie Forshee