A solar installation company has been whacked with a fine of $6,000 for publishing fake testimonials on its website.
At Perth Magistrates Court last Friday, Suntech Solar Pty Ltd trading as Ausuntech Energy pleaded guilty to all charges associated with eight breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The prosecution was carried out by Consumer Protection, an agency of the Government of Western Australia.
The company, which operates across Australia and has an office in the Perth suburb of Canning Vale, copied eight testimonials from the websites of other solar or electrical businesses – including SolarQuotes – to the Ausuntech Energy website. According to Consumer Protection, the texts were edited so the reviews referred to Suntech Solar, and the original reviewers’ names and locations were changed. The fake reviews were available online for more than two years.
With consumers increasingly relying on customer testimonials when making a purchase decision, fake reviews are a scourge.
“Fictitious testimonials are not only illegal, they diminish the trust and good faith between traders and consumers, particularly when the reviews are lifted directly from competitors’ websites,” said Commissioner for Consumer Protection Penny Lipscombe. “This case should remind all businesses of their obligations to understand and comply with relevant laws.”
S 29(1)(e) and (f) of the Australian Consumer Law state:
A person must not, in trade or commerce, in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connection with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services:
(e) make a false or misleading representation that purports to be a testimonial by any person relating to goods or services; or
(f) make a false or misleading representation concerning:
(i) a testimonial by any person; or
(ii) a representation that purports to be such a testimonial relating to goods or services;
The ACL applies across Australia and to all Australian businesses.
Approved Solar Retailer Status Suspension
This wasn’t the first trouble Ausuntech Energy found itself in over the fake reviews.
In May last year, Ausuntech Energy were suspended from the Clean Energy Council’s Approved Solar Retailer Scheme for “Providing false testimonials on website relating to the company”. The suspension was lifted in early July 2019 after the company satisfied the CEC’s requirements for reinstatement. The suspension entry can be found on the CEC’s compliance activity page.
Just in relation to online reviews generally, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has published this guide for businesses.