Attorney General Bonta Announces Court's Denial of Room Rental App’s Attempt to Evade Accountability for Unlawful Fake Online Reviews

Thursday, February 2, 2023
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OAKLAND ­— California Attorney General Rob Bonta, along with the Federal Trade Commission and five other state attorneys generals, successfully blocked an attempt by Roomster — a roommate- and room-finding app — to evade accountability for violation of California’s False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law, as well as other federal and state consumer protection laws. A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied Roomster’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed on August 30, 2022 by Attorney General Bonta, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and five other state attorneys general.

“I am pleased with this decision, which will allow us to move forward in our fight to seek justice for Californians who were duped by fake reviews, scams and unverified listings that Roomster let proliferate on its site,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Roomster took advantage of consumers at a time when finding access to an affordable place to live is more challenging than ever. I look forward to making Roomster answer for its conduct, and holding the company accountable.”

Roomster runs a roommate- and room-finding app that advertises primarily private rooms in cities and towns across the globe. Roomster is targeted at lower-income renters for whom Roomster acknowledges that “every penny counts.” Roomster makes money by charging a subscription fee to potential renters for the ability to message potential roommates or landlords. In both the Google and Apple app stores, Roomster boosts thousands of five-star reviews, and it advertises itself as “trusted by the world’s best.”

In the lawsuit, the coalition alleges that Roomster engaged in false advertising and unfair business practices that harmed consumers who use its app. An investigation into Roomster found that the company purchased at least 20,000 fake positive reviews for its app in the Google and Apple app stores. Emails between Roomster co-founder John Shriber and Jonathan Martinez, owner of the review sales business AppWinn, show Shriber asking for “lots of 5 star IOS app reviews” and telling Martinez he “would like to be #1” in search results for people seeking roommates. Roomster also made representations that its app offered “millions of verified listings” and that its listings are “verified” and “authentic.” In reality, the app features a myriad of scam listings, and the company does not appear to do any sort of verification of posts. The coalition reached a settlement with Jonathan Martinez and AppWin last year.

Today’s decision allows the lawsuit against Roomster to move forward and can be found here.

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