GAMING the SYSTEM: These people do not exist, part 3
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
At the top of Rooter Hero’s webpage, at https://rooterhero.com/ceo-message, consumers will find the pride, “4.8/5 ratings based on 6,584 reviews…Great service, great reviews.”
And yes, on Google Reviews, under “Rooter Hero Plumbing of Inland Empire,” the Nevada-based company with 10 locations in California and Arizona (but none in the Silver State) has a rating of 4.8 (out of five). ), with 510 reviews as of June 21. It had a four-star Yelp rating from 435 customers on the same date.
But on Yelp, Google and elsewhere, the experiences of customers who leave bad reviews are broadly similar to those of Claremont residents, the Roberts,” who were surprised in May when a Rooter Hero tech charged them $2,082 for a six-hour job from his own company COO called “a minor repair.”
On the Better Business Bureau website, Rooter Hero ratings drop sharply, to 1.93 out of five stars, with 29 complaints filed against the company in the past three years.
“Had I not had the time to do some research and get a second opinion, I would have paid the $22,000 unnecessarily and thus been ripped off,” read a BBB review. “I would avoid Rooter Hero under any circumstances and would hope that their founder, John Akhoian, would know what his team is doing with customers.”
The complaints continue on Trustlink, where a consumer, Christopher McGuiness, under the headline “Absolutely Miserable Experience” wrote there and on Facebook (leaving the punctuation and spelling as we found it): “There is a trend, and a terrible scam by Ygrene and Rooter – USE NOT ANY service with Rooter worth more than $100. We started with a backup line, which turned from a $3000 project that we were able to fund, to $18k project funding through Ygrene.Total will be $36 -40,000 are in 20 years… We ended up having another (Ygrene recommended) plumbing company look at the work and take pictures.The work is not up to the code, Rooter left all their trash under our house and what not to the code is poorly done.”
Read Part I: “How Much Is Too Much?”
Read Part II: The Scam
Podcast: Part I
‘We really don’t know why that happened’
On Facebook, 399 people had left reviews for Rooter Hero on June 15, resulting in a five-star rating.
But a closer look at the company’s Facebook reviews reveals a strange anomaly: On January 16, 2020, Rooter Hero received 46 “recommendations” — all without comment.
About a month earlier, on November 24, 2019, the pattern repeats, with 35 recommendations without comment. The day before, on November 23, 2019, there are no fewer than 60 recommendations without comment, and on November 22 there are nine.
This is unusual for two reasons:
1. The most “recommended” Rooter Hero received on the platform on any other day in its entire history was three.
2. Eliminating the 150 uncommented “recommendations” out of the company’s total of 399 leaves 248 supposedly legitimate reviews. All but three contain comments.
When asked about the anomaly in his Facebook reviews, Rooter Hero COO John Bergeron was unequivocal: “We don’t pay people to create likes or reviews for us in any way,” he said. “And most people just click on the recommendation [on Facebook], you know, the thumbs up button, and never leave a comment.”
But that is not true.
As mentioned, all but three of them included 245 Facebook reviews of Rooter Hero that were not dumped on the page for four days in late 2019 and early 2020.
“The bottom line is we really don’t know why that happened,” Mr Bergeron said.
These people don’t exist
The COURIER then dug into the 46 Rooter Hero “recommendations” dated January 16, 2020. It turned out that all but a handful came from Facebook users located thousands of miles outside Rooter Hero’s service area in California and Arizona: Four were from Brooklyn. , New York; five from New Orleans; five from Las Vegas; four from Chicago; five from Tampa, Florida; two from Miami; as well as individual “recommendations” from Rochester, New York; Richmond, Virginia; North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and Dallas.
The COURIER contacted all 46 profiles who recommended Rooter Hero on January 16, 2020 via Facebook Messenger.
Not one responded.
And it wasn’t because they were avoiding us.
None of Rooter Hero’s 46 “recommendations” dated January 16, 2020 came from a real person. The fake reviews were created or paid for by Rooter Hero to boost the company’s ratings online.
How does the COURIER know that the ratings are fraudulent? Consider this:
On March 12, 2020, several of the 46 Facebook profiles who left a “recommendation” for Rooter Hero just a few months earlier left similar posts on their Facebook pages (we left the punctuation and spelling we found):
“excellent transportation service from Cabo Airport to hotel.”
“Virginia Walker,” Chicago
“best shuttle from Cabo Airport to hotel.”
Linda Banks, Rochester, New York
“great limousine service from cabo airport o cabo san lucas hotel.”
“Shaun Jackson,” New Orleans
What are the odds of “Ms. Walker,” “Mrs. Banks” and “Mr. Jackson” all on the same day in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico? Nil, because they are not real people.
As if that weren’t enough, many of Rooter Hero’s 46 fake critics were apparently all at the same nail salon in Taipei, Taiwan on January 16, 2020, two weeks later, on January 30, 2020, because they were all checked in on Facebook there.
“This is what it’s about: [Rooter Hero doesn’t] just having fake Facebook reviews,” said online review specialist and consumer advocate Jason Brown, who runs www.reviewfraud.org. “I could also pick just one random location and found a fake profile that also left Google reviews. It will be on multiple platforms, not just one.”
mr. Brown “scraped” Rooter Hero’s online reviews for the COURIER and found it partnered with an Atlanta-based marketing firm, iBoost. He found several profiles that rated iBoost itself, and three from the same other companies. One of those profiles was of ‘Barbara Jenkins’.
Google removed some of the reviews “Ms. Jenkins” left in 2017 because it deemed them fraudulent. But “Mrs. Jenkins” was persistent. She managed to rate many other Rooter Hero locations after Google already wiped out her previous ratings.
It turns out that there is no “Barbara Jenkins”. Her profile picture belongs to another person, Gloria De Piero, a 48-year-old British journalist and former Labor Party politician who currently hosts a program about NL News, a TV news channel based in London.
“That’s more than enough to say, these reviews are not legit and they come from iBoost, because iBoost is also reviewed by the same profiles,” said Mr. brown.
Further exploration of Rooter Hero yielded a myriad of irregularities and suspicious iBoost-generated ratings for several Rooter Hero locations, not only Montclair, but also Los Angeles, Gardena, Orange County, San Diego, and San Fernando Valley.
An iBoost employee — who refused to provide his or her name despite several requests to do so — responded to the COURIER’s questions via email. We’ve left the punctuation, spelling, and syntax intact:
“False reviews? That is not possible at all because we are against fake reviews,” the iBoost representative wrote. “It is better for you to contact Rooter Hero as we do NOT provide fake reviews and Rooter Hero does NOT get fake reviews.”
“It’s all from iBoost,” Mr. Brown said. “iBoost can sit there and say, ‘No, it’s all that other company, these are real customers, nothing fraudulent is happening, everything is all good and kosher.’ But that’s not it.”