Using false references: a shoddy business practice

It never ceases to amaze me what companies will try to get away with to attract business -- especially with something as simple as references. If you haven't noticed the practice of false references, here's what it looks like.
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor

You know, I'm really sick and tired of some of the shoddy, underhanded practices that countless businesses use in attempts to garner business via the Internet these days. I mean, a lot of the tricks they're utilizing are age-old, but why have we come to accept them? Personally, every chance I get to put companies on blast for engaging in these types of practices, I like to do as such.

Now, I know that businesses are supposedly only beholden to success and being profitable, but that's always been a cop-out to me; an excuse to try to make it seem as if people shouldn't matter. Well, they do, and when you lie to attract business, they have every right to call you out.

First off, false reviews and quotes are a dime a dozen these days. You've surely seen them, whether you realized it or not, be it on a company's site, Amazon.com, Angie's List, or elsewhere. Those aren't what I'm addressing, here. The specific type of false references I'm referring to are the ones where Web sites use logos from well-known brands as though they've been mentioned there: USA Today, TechCrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo, etc. They're usually located towards the bottom of the site and the offense looks something like this:


By using those images in that fashion, companies/sites are implying that they've been mentioned by those brands, presumably on their Web sites. Clearly, that's not a list of clients, and the, "But, but... we were in a magazine!" excuse doesn't cut it when you reference tech brands that have no such avenue of distribution in place (Mashable, TechCrunch, etc.).

Another tell-tale sign (not definitive, but certainly tell-tale) that you're dealing with false references is the inability to click on any of the brand logos that might take you to where X company has been mentioned. That leaves one with more leg work than they care to do if they hope to validate sources... but guess what? I'm up to the task, so let's do it.

For the purposes of this article, I recorded a video demonstrating how to go about noticing, researching, and ultimately validating (or invalidating, as the case may be) such references. If you can, watch it full-screen and in 1080p resolution, so that you can see what I'm typing, etc.:

It's common for companies to provide references of some sort so as to build trust, and therein lies the motivation to fabricate them. But if you're going to fabricate them, then at least do it in a way where you can't get busted for it. Yes, I understand that people like references, but if it's so important that you have to baldfaced lie about them, then it's important enough for me to get aggravated with you if I catch you doing it.

So, as I mention in the video, the takeaway here is not to automatically distrust offending companies who engage in this type of behavior; rather, the takeaway is to be a little more cautious with your purchasing decisions based on references. In the best case scenario, this is just a company telling a little white lie that it thinks it needs to, to secure trust with prospective buyers. In the worst case scenario, you may well be buying from a very untrustworthy, shady entity that knows it can con you out of money or personal information, based on the weight you give reviews and references when making purchases.

To close, I realize this may not seem like a big deal to those of you who are familiar with these tactics. I mean, this isn't something I'm only just now noticing, but I've yet to see anyone recently bring the practice to light so as to expose it for the BS it is. And here again, just because it's something many of us have grown to expect, that's no excuse to just continue letting the practice go on without calling offending companies to the mat. At the end of the day, it's a ridiculous and dishonest practice. Period.

Buyer, beware!

Do you have any particular shoddy business practices you're tired of being expected to put up with? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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