ROME (Reuters) – A man who wrote fake reviews about Italian restaurants and hotels on the online travel site TripAdvisor <TRIP.O> has been jailed for nine months and ordered to pay an 8,000 euro (7,123.83 pounds)fine, the company said on Wednesday.
TripAdvisor said in a statement that the sentence was handed down in June by a court in the southern Italian city of Lecce. There was no immediate confirmation from the court.
The man, who was not named, offered to sell glowing reviews to businesses across Italy to bump up their ratings on the TripAdvisor site, which claims hundreds of millions of online visitors each month.
“We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet,” TripAdvisor said. “Writing fake reviews on TripAdvisor has always been a violation of the law in many jurisdictions … However, this is the first time we have seen the laws being enforced to the point of securing a criminal conviction.”
The U.S.-owned company said Italian businesses tipped it off in 2015 that a man was offering to write fake reviews to boost their online profiles.
A subsequent investigation revealed “more than 1,000 attempts” to submit reviews for hundreds of different properties. TripAdvisor said it believes some businesses paid for fake reviews and were subsequently hit with penalties that lowered their all-important popularity rankings.
It added that Italy’s Postal and Communications Police had carried out a parallel investigation and had brought the eventual prosecution.
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(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Mark Heinrich)