Are fake or paid testimonials illegal?

Cover image - Are fake or paid
testimonials illegal?
Profile photo of Val Brown
Profile photo of Daniel Stefanovic
Val Brown, Daniel Stefanovic
Last updated
December 2022
Read time
8 minutes

It’s not uncommon for online consumers to happen upon a fake testimonial. While they’ve become increasingly more difficult to spot, there’s no denying that they’re still as prevalent as ever; 74% of online consumers are said to have identified at least one false review in the last 365 days.

With that said, the following will be a deep dive into the world of legality pertaining to reviews and testimonials. Specifically, we’ll uncover and answer the most pressing questions surrounding the topics of paid and fake testimonials. To ensure that you as a business or brand avoid any such legal concerns regarding testimonials, continue reading!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article isn’t intended to be used as legal advice but rather general guidance on the subject of testimonials and the issues surrounding legality.

Fake testimonials

While many perceive testimonials and reviews to be posted by real individuals, the harsh truth is that it’s not always the case. On the contrary, many reviews and testimonials are either misled by incentivizing customers to post inaccurate statements or companies outright writing them themselves.

Are fake testimonials illegal in the United States?

Yes. According to the FTC, any use of unfair or deceptive acts that affect commerce is a crime, forbidding the use of fake testimonials. So, whether on social media, third-party websites, commerce websites, landing pages, or otherwise, fake testimonials are unquestionably illegal in the United States and beyond.

Are fake testimonials illegal in the United Kingdom?

Yes, the use of fake testimonials is 100% illegal in the eyes of the UK government and beyond. Whether it’s writing, hosting, or paying for a fake review, paid or unpaid, new UK laws and regulations have prohibited the use of fake testimonials for any reason, according to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

Are fake testimonials illegal in Canada?

Yes, fake testimonials in Canada are illegal. Largely led by the Competition Act whereby civil or criminal advertising provisions are challenged, the use of fake, false or misleading testimonials is illegal if made knowingly and recklessly. These strict provisions and forbidden deceptive behaviors make it all but impossible for advertisers to partake in the use of fake testimonials.

What are the punishments for fake testimonials?

While this depends on whether you’re the reviewer or the company incentivizing fake reviews, the FTC has the power to penalize how they see fit due to the simple fact that it’s a crime to disobey FTC rules and regulations. Punishments include fines upwards of $10,000+/day and are subject to the U.S Code (USC).

While most testimonials given by a customer are done voluntarily, paid testimonials are requested in exchange for compensation. Paid testimonials are typically written by influencers, celebrities, other spokespersons, or regular customers during initial reviews. Continue reading to learn more about the legality surrounding paid testimonials.

Are paid testimonials illegal in the United States?

No. Paid testimonials aren’t inherently illegal in the US. There are, however, several provisions that prohibit the act of paying for fake/misleading testimonials. Whether for a product, service, or political candidate, paid testimonials are viable as long as a disclaimer is given regarding the relationship between parties; it must be publicly disclosed, according to the FTC.

How do you avoid illegally paid testimonials?

There must be a clearly identifiable disclaimer attached to the testimonial itself. If a company has paid a celebrity influencer for a promotional testimonial for a social media post, they may choose to use a hashtag like “#ad” or “advertisement” to satisfy FTC guidelines; In short, the relationship must be disclosed in some publicly identifiable way.

Are paid testimonials illegal in the United Kingdom?

No. Paid testimonials aren’t inherently illegal in the UK. Many of the same provisions that make fake testimonials illegal, however, also make paid testimonials illegal. For paid testimonials to comply legally, disclaimers must be clearly used and deceit must be avoided at all costs.

Are paid testimonials illegal in Canada?

No. Paid testimonials aren’t illegal in Canada either. While fake or misleading testimonials are illegal in the eyes of Canadian authorities, paid testimonials are viable should advertisers implement them ethically; for paid testimonials to be legal, disclaimers must be used, clauses must be identified, and deceit must be avoided.

Can you use paid testimonials in political campaigns?

Yes. According to the Federal Election Commission, “there are no FEC regulations that explicitly prohibit paying individuals for appearances in advertisements that are sponsored by federal candidates”. As such, the rules remain the same, whether for a product, service, or political candidate.

Can you exchange free gifts for testimonials?

Yes, you can exchange free gifts for testimonials if done so with compliance. While it might come across as somewhat deceitful, exchanging free gifts for testimonials is legal should there be a disclosure attached. This is because the FTC places free gifts in the same category as compensation. Avoid incentives for a perfect review or specific testimonial request.

Can you provide discounts for testimonials?

Yes, however, not without consideration. It’s often emphasized in the FTC guidelines to practice common sense. If you work at a company, do not review the product/service nor should you accept any incentive to leave a review. if an incentive (i.e. discount) is offered to a customer for a review, it must be optional, not mandatory.

Can you get paid for a Google review?

Yes, however, with provisions. While you can get compensated for leaving a review, compensation can’t direct the requirement for a positive review as it goes against terms of service. Similarly, public disclosure must be identifiable. Failure to disclose is seen as illegal in the eyes of the FTC.

Can you get paid for an Amazon review?

No, with no exceptions. As another one of the most reputable websites in the world, Amazon doesn’t take reviews lightly; it’s what the majority of its business is built on. According to its terms of service, “a review in exchange for monetary reward” is not allowed and will be removed.

Can you get paid for a Yelp review?

No, accepting payment in exchange for reviews is prohibited and highly discouraged unless you’re part of the Yelp Ambassador Program. According to its terms of service, you’re to refrain from “…compensate someone or be compensated to post, refrain from posting, or remove a review”.

Are you required to disclose paid testimonials on social media?

Yes, whether on social media or otherwise, it’s required to publicly disclose the relationship between both parties involved. This can be shown through the use of hashtags (“#ad” or “#advertisement”, or “#sponsored”), paid promotion tags, or otherwise.

Real testimonials

Not all testimonials are paid. In fact, many of them are left voluntarily by real individuals. Many questions surround the use and modification of real but voluntary testimonials. Continue reading to learn more…

Can you modify testimonials?

Yes, however not without provisions. While testimonials don’t need to be phrased exactly as they were written, they cannot be taken out of context (§ 255.1). This type of distortion is viewed as false and misleading advertising, hence being illegal. You can, however, request one to leave a review or testimonial, openly allowing them to speak openly and honestly.

Can you tell the reviewer what to say?

No. This goes back to NOT being able to modify testimonials or reviews. Telling the reviewer what to say not only removes respect and boundaries from the equation but is also a type of modification, tampering, and misleading. All reviews “must reflect the honest opinions, findings, and beliefs of the endorser…” according to the FTC (FTC 16 CFR Part 255).

Can you use testimonials without permission?

Yes, there are no outright rules or regulations that state the illegal use of voluntary, real testimonials in a promotional ad or social media post, for example, without permission; it’s presumed that consent has been given if the review is given voluntarily. It’s a safe and recommended practice, however, to ask for permission or create an agreement.

Can you use stock images for real testimonials?

Yes, if you weren’t given real photos on behalf of the reviewer and wish to use visual content on your reviews, you can input stock images of your choice. In short, stock images aren’t viewed as misleading.

Can you use real testimonials in display ads?

Yes, if the testimonial was written about your product or service, you can use it in any way that you please, whether in a promotional display ad, organic social media post, or otherwise. While it’s not required, it’s recommended to ask the reviewer for permission to use it before proceeding further just to be safe.

Can you use testimonials for medical products?

Yes, however, not without consideration. If the testimonials aren’t deceptive, misleading, or false, there are no outright provisions stating the illegality of the testimonial. It’s recommended for the healthcare company being reviewed to ensure that all testimonials, results, and experiences are easily verifiable and disclosed.

Can you use testimonials for medical services or skills?

Yes, however, not without consideration. If the testimonials aren’t deceptive, misleading, or false, there are no outright provisions stating the illegality of the testimonial. It’s recommended for physicians to avoid the use of testimonials unless readily available to verify.

Can you repost reviews from third-party websites?

No, whether from Yelp, Google, Amazon, or otherwise, all reviews are considered to be of the ownership of both the endorser and the third-party website involved. As such, reposting said review would be copyright infringement if not otherwise stated.

Spotting fake testimonials

In today’s digital ecosystem, it’s difficult to spot a fake review from a legitimate one. Because of the resourcefulness in making fake reviews look real, oftentimes, it’s near impossible to distinguish.

There are, however, still several ways to spot fake testimonials and reviews. Want to know what tools to use and red flags to look for? Read the following article entitled How to Spot Fake Testimonials.

What follows are several legal tips regarding the use of testimonials. Whilst some might not be required, all are recommended, if for no other reason but to play it safe…

  • DO ask for permission first. Although a spoken agreement is typically sufficient, it’s best to request a written agreement before proceeding just to be safe. This written agreement can and should be given to every reviewer and should also be included as a clause in your terms of service.
  • DO ensure the accuracy of the testimonial. Ensuring that all endorsements, reviews, and testimonials reflect the honest opinions and beliefs of the person writing the testimonial is imperative. Such accuracy will protect you from being held liable for false testimonials or the potential of such.
  • DO clarify the relationship between both parties. This goes for any such relationship, whether it’s an employee of a company, a relative of staff, investors, shareholders, or the like. Failing to disclose any type of relationship, whether paid or not, can result in you being held liable.
  • DON’T copy & paste reviews from other sites. When a review is originally posted on another review site, it’s inherently under the ownership of that website. Most review sites relay this in their terms of service. Failing to comply with such terms results in the infringement of rights.

Niva is a SaaS business whereby we help increase credibility and sales through accurate and honest video testimonials. To garner the most authentic and reliable video testimonials that can’t be faked, visit Niva today here!

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