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Sunday Riley
courtesy of Instagram/@sundayriley

Cult skincare brand Sunday Riley found guilty of leaving fake reviews

The US Federal Trade Commission found the company founder, senior bosses, and staff were deliberately misleading customers

The cult US-based skincare brand Sunday Riley has been found by the Federal Trade Commission to have posted fake reviews of their products in order to boost sales. 

In a complaint filed on October 21, the watchdog alleges that between November 2015 and August 2017, managers of Sunday Riley, including founder Riley, posted faked positive reviews of products on Sephora’s website and asked its employees to do the same. 

The FTC found the brand guilty of being in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act on two counts: making false or misleading endorsement claims and deceptive failure to disclose material connections with endorsers – i.e. deceptively failing to disclose that the reviews were written by Riley or her employees.

The watchdog first began investigating Sunday Riley after a former employee exposed the brand last October. Taking to social platform Reddit, the anonymous poster accused Sunday Riley of forcing their employees to write fake reviews for their products, a practice that was allegedly ordered from the top: “We were forced to write fake reviews for our products on an ongoing basis, which came from Sunday Riley herself and her Head of Sales,” they write.

The whistleblower also attached an email allegedly sent to employees from the brand which includes a step-by-step guide to installing a VPN so that the reviews don’t get traced back to their IP addresses, as well as suggestions of what to put in the reviews and how to appear more “relatable”.

After Sunday Riley received criticism following the accusations, the brand responded, confirming the claims.

Following the complaint by the FTC, a settlement with Sunday Riley has been reached which prohibits the brand from posting fake reviews in the future. However, Sunday Riley will not be required to pay a fine, issue refunds to customers or admit to any wrongdoing, Buzzfeed News reports

Some at the FTC, however, feel that the ruling is too lenient. In an official dissent, FTC Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Kelly Slaughter who voted against the settlement said the agreement “will not deter other firms from engaging in fake review fraud, which is a growing problem online”.

“This settlement sends the wrong message to the marketplace,” they write. “Dishonest firms may come to conclude that posting fake reviews is a viable strategy, given the proposed outcome here. Honest firms, who are the biggest victims of this fraud, may be wondering if they are losing out by following the law. Consumers may come to lack confidence that reviews are truthful.”