Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Reuters reports that nineteen companies caught writing fake reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch have been snared in a year-long sting operation by the New York Attorney General and will pay $350,000 in penalties. The Attorney General's office set up a fake yogurt shop in Brooklyn, New York, and sought help from firms that specialize in boosting online search results to combat negative reviews. Search optimization companies offered to post fake reviews of the yogurt shop, created online profiles, and paid as little as $1 per review to freelance writers in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe. To avoid detection the companies used "advanced IP spoofing techniques" to hide their true identities. "This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution," said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "More than 100 million visitors come to Yelp each month, making it critical that Yelp protect the integrity of its content," said Aaron Schur, Yelp's Senior Litigation Counsel.