Philly Woman Sues Angie’s List, Calls Service “Fraudulent,” “Deceptive”

Claims the company secretly manipulates reviews and ratings.

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The whole point of the popular website Angie’s List is that it is supposed to provide ratings and reviews of contractors, mechanics, dentists and the like based purely on customer experience, referring to itself in the company membership agreement as a “passive conduit.” But according to one Philadelphia woman, Angie’s List is anything but.

Janell Moore has filed a class action suit in Philadelphia’s federal court alleging that Angie’s List manipulates ratings to favor its advertising revenue, calling the company’s practices “fraudulent, deceptive and misleading.”

Indeed, the Angie’s List Frequently Asked Questions page clearly states: “Companies with the best ratings from members will appear first.”

But Moore says that’s simply untrue. “Angie’s List secretly alters the order in which service providers are listed in members’ search results,” she claims in the suit. “Angie’s List ranks service providers based on how much providers pay in ‘advertising’ fees … A plumber with an ‘A’ rating and all positive reviews … who did not pay any ‘advertising’ fees will be ranked below a plumber who did pay ‘advertising’ fees but has worse reviews or ratings.”

Moore cites, among other evidence to support her claim, a 2013 investigative report by an NBC station in Virginia, which found that companies can boost their position in search results on Angie’s List by paying Angie’s List fees.

According to that investigation, one contractor that came up 12th in the relevant search was actually the top-rated contractor in the given category, and the contractor told NBC that Angie’s List wanted more than $10,000 to bump him higher.

In the last quarter of 2014, Angie’s List posted membership revenue of $18 million, while the company’s advertising revenue had skyrocketed to $58 million, up nearly 30 percent since the year before.

In the lawsuit, Moore explains that she first had concerns over Angie’s List after she had a problem with an Angie’s List-recommended contractor last year. Moore says that she paid the contractor $4,000 to remodel her kitchen but that he never finished the job and refused to return the money.

Moore submitted a negative review of the contractor to Angie’s List and maintains that it was only after doing so that she was permitted to see other negative reviews of the same contractor. She says she never would have hired him had she been given access to those bad reviews, and Moore’s attorneys say that those negative reviews were suppressed because the contractor had paid money to Angie’s List.

Moore accuses Angie’s List of breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment and of breaking Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. She is seeking unspecified damages on behalf of her and the entire class, which is pretty much anyone who uses Angie’s List.

An Angie’s List spokesperson has said that the company does not comment on active litigation, and the company has yet to file a response in the case.

It’s not the first time that a Philadelphian has sued Angie’s List. In 2013, Philadelphia resident Marie Fritzinger filed her own federal class-action lawsuit against the company over its membership fees, claiming that she (and the millions of other people in the class) were overcharged when it came time to renew. In 2014, the company reportedly settled the case for nearly $3 million.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.