Yelp accused of shaking down Houston business owner to display positive reviews

A Spring Branch business owner, who says his customers have posted dozens of glowing reviews on 'Yelp', says new customers may not see those reviews because he refuses to pay the online service.

A.J. Rosella bought G&S Automotive nearly three years ago, with a pledge to provide ethical, honest, and affordable work.

Rosella says, when he decided not to spend hundreds of dollars a month to advertise on Yelp, nearly 50 five star reviews were, suddenly, marked 'not-recommended'.

He insists he's losing customers as a result.

"They're going to go to Yelp and see that we have 10 or 11 good reviews," says Rosella. "But 49 bad reviews? I get it. It outweighs it so badly that I probably wouldn't visit that business."

The Better Business Bureau says it has fielded nearly 2,000 complaints about Yelp, in recent years. Many of those complaint allege similar actions.

In a statement to FOX 26, Yelp denies it alters reviews, saying 'automated software' highlights recommended opinions that can evolve as the system learns more information.

But five years ago, a federal appeals court ruled Yelp can manipulate reviews, if it wants, suggesting such a practice would be nothing more than "hard bargaining".

For consumers looking to rely on reviews, it's best to read them all. The truth is likely somewhere between the good ones and the bad ones.