Some people will say anything if they think they're anonymous. (Photo: Molly100, Dreamstime)

This is Part 3 in our series on online marketing and how to actively use consumer reviews in a digital marketing plan, rather than a passive effect that business owners can’t control. Click here to read Part 2.

It may be hard to believe, but fake reviews—often written by disgruntled employees and jealous competitors—happen to almost every local business at some point in time. Fortunately, these type of reviews are very rare, but the perceived mask of anonymity the internet offers can lead more unscrupulous people to say things they’d never dream of saying in person. Of the 21% of Americans who admit to having written fake reviews, according to global market research firm YouGov, the cohorts most likely to do so are millennials (13%) and men (11%).

[Related: Why you should cultivate and respond to online reviews]

If you do discover a fraudulent review, there are some steps you can take to protect the good reputation you’ve worked hard to build.

Do your research. If an intensely negative review suddenly appears and something just doesn’t look right, do what you can to find the reviewer’s name. Depending on the website, clues can be found in usernames, signatures, descriptions of the alleged event and more. You might find precisely who posted it, but you might also never know.

Flag the review as fake and alert the website right away. Although this function varies among platforms, most sites permit companies to report reviews as suspicious. Resolution processes, time frames and results will also differ, so you’ll need to read the user agreement or terms of use for answers and then take the appropriate actions.

Respond only if you cannot flag it. If the site does not permit you to flag suspicious comments, go ahead and reply. Do so tactfully, avoid using hostile language and don’t try to outline everything that’s wrong with it—keep it brief.

Craft an honest response. Being tactful doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself. If you’ve done your due diligence, you know that the review is fraudulent, and the platform either doesn’t have a means of flagging such reviews or won’t resolve the issue to your satisfaction, go ahead and reply. You can also include your contact info to bolster your credibility.

“You should always use the truth when you reply to a review, even fake ones,” says Dan Mulvaney, owner of Colorado Springs-based JTB Landscaping and Outdoor Design. “If I get a fake review, I’ll respond honestly and just say that I don’t know this person and have never done business with them.”

“While XYZ Landscaping appreciates all feedback, we have no record of a client matching this name/date/situation, and have never provided them with any services. Please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected] with questions.”

Consider (or threaten) more aggressive action. If you know who wrote an egregiously false review that could do real harm to your business and the site won’t help you remove it, you could pursue legal action.

“We had a former employee post a false review online once,” adds Tim Lindgren, owner of Fort Collins-based Lindgren Landscape. “The homeowner search didn’t turn up anything, and the timeline and details didn’t make sense. We found the email system they used on their system here at the office, and sent them an email saying we’d take them to court if it wasn’t taken down. They took it down immediately. The worst part was, we didn’t even know this person left unhappy!”

[Related: Planning for PurposeHow to build and grow a business]

This article originally appeared in our sister publication, Colorado Patio & Landscape

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