When you cheat, there should be consequences, especially when your actions reflect badly on your whole industry. Kamloops, B.C.-based Rate-My-Agent.com’s recent review audits found that several agents had created fake reviews for themselves.

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Rate-My-Agent’s advisory group of 80 agents isn’t taking the news lightly. The company says the group has strong opinions and wants cheaters severely punished. “Without consequences, there would be no reason for cheaters to stop.”

The penalty depends on how many fake reviews they posted. Offenders are ranked at the bottom of the list for a week and get a warning message on their profile and a $100 fine for every fake review, the company says. These agents are also excluded from being awarded any Top Rated Agent badges or being included in any yearly lists of top agents.

So far four cheaters (one each from Toronto, Montreal, Guelph, Ont. and Kelowna) have been identified but the auditing continues. When a rating is posted, an automatic system sends an email to the address used to post the review. The reviewer is asked for confirmation and to take responsibility for the review, and to state that it is true and accurate.

Rate-My-Agent.com has taken the latest steps in order to be transparent, the company says. True ratings, good and bad, establish more trust for agents and consumers, it says.

The domain, Rate-My-Agent.com, and a basic database of a few thousand agents and reviews, was acquired from the original owner in October 2014.  At the time, the site had no graphics and the search results looked like a spreadsheet. The database was cleaned up and then work began to build a more user-friendly experience so people could easily compare agents in their area, the company says.

When search engines began to show agents’ profiles and rank city pages in search results, agents started creating profiles because they could see the value in being found where customers were looking, the company says. “Rate-My-Agent.com has been growing organically since. Most importantly, hundreds of thousands of buyers and sellers have found a convenient way to find the best agents and avoid the frustration of hiring the wrong agent.”

The site now has more than 11,000 agents, more than 25,000 reviews and more than 240,000 visitors per year.

A recent update to its ranking algorithm has recent ratings and reviews weighted more than old ones. This change to more up-to-date reviews is intended to improve the customer experience when they are researching and comparing agents, the company says.

Fifty per cent of Rate-My-Agent.com’s profits is pledged to worthy causes, including local charities such as the Kamloops Food Policy Council, and entrepreneurs on Kiva.org, which provides micro lending in developing companies.

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