room for rent

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published on August 30, 2022 - 10:21 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has filed a lawsuit against room rental app Roomster for buying fake online reviews.

A coalition including the Federal Trade Commission and five other state attorneys general alleges that the New York-based app purchased thousands of fake positive reviews to promote its service and fraudulently claimed its room and roommate listings were “verified” and “authentic” despite featuring scam listings, according to a news release.

The app is widely used in the Central Valley, with a search of Tuesday revealing dozens of listings in the Fresno area.

“Millions of hardworking Californians are struggling to find housing within their budgets. When people see affordable rooms for rent on highly rated apps like Roomster, they trust that these ‘verified’ listings are what they say they are,” stated Attorney General Bonta. “Unfortunately, Roomster hasn’t been honest about the source of its popularity or its commitment to preventing fraud on its app. Roomster bought fake reviews and let scams proliferate, and consumers paid the price. We’ll always fight to hold companies accountable for trying to bilk hardworking Californians.”

The lawsuit alleges Roomster purchased at least 20,000 fake positive reviews for its app in the Google and Apple app stores.

According to the news release, emails between Roomster co-founder John Shriber and Jonathan Martinez, owner of the review sales business AppWinn, show Shriber asking for “lots of 5 star IOS app reviews” and telling Martinez he “would like to be #1” in search results for people seeking roommates.

In a related settlement, Martinez with AppWinn resolved allegations of violating the False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law by promoting Roomster through fake reviews. As part of the settlement, Martinez must comply “with strong injunctive terms to deter future misconducts.” He must also pay $100,00 to the states, which include Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York.

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