RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – If you're planning a trip soon, don't be so blown away by the pictures of that sandy beach or that hotel suite fit for a king -- they could be fakes. There is a new website that will help you separate reality versus fantasy.
Your online search for that perfect destination may be leading you right into a nightmare.
NBC Today Show Correspondent Jeff Rossen discovered luxury hotels promising one thing online, but delivering something else in person. And it's not just misleading pictures but also bogus reviews.
"Experts say this is widespread and has become so mainstream that major advertising agencies on Madison Avenue are involved in this. Hotel chains are hiring them to flood the web with fake reviews," Rossen said.
He says it is illegal to pose as a customer and post a fake review, but the Federal Trade Commission has yet to actually catch anyone in the act. Experts says one way to avoid being duped when you're on a website like Trip Advisor, throw out the best, and the worst reviews and trust the ones that are middle of the road.
When it comes to those misleading pictures, there's a new site that can help. It's called Oyster.com. It highlights photo fake-outs, comparing fantasy with reality.
"We want to help people find a perfect hotel for them by showing them honest real photographs of the hotel and giving them an expert review of the hotel," said Oyster's editor, Jennifer Garfinkel.
Oyster is a free website that she says acts as "travel police."
Gray: "What is the message that you are sending to these fake websites that have these fake photos? I would imagine there is a bigger message behind all of this?"
Jennifer: "I think what we are saying to the other websites is that you need to be honest, you need to be truthful. People are spending their hard earned money and vacation time."
Unlike other hotel review sites, Oyster, sends a team of investigators to take "real" pictures of the places. They have a section featuring photo fake outs.
For example, that great gym facility may not be what you think, the beach may not be as secluded and that beautiful view may not exist.
"I see Oyster more on the consumer side where as some of other big players in the market are money making machines and they are not really there with consumer in mind," Garfinkel said.
So the text time you plan a trip, you may want to add Oyster to your to do list. For more on how Oyster works and to take a look at some of the fake-out photos, you can visit their website: www.oyster.com
Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.
635 W. 7th Street