The Office of Fair Trading has taken action against MoreNiche, which runs an online network of shops and affiliates selling and marketing products such as diet and teeth whitening aids, after affiliates were found to be passing paid-for commercial promotions off as independent customer reviews.

Some affiliates’ sites also failed to make it clear they were being paid for promoting products made by merchants in the MoreNiche network, the OFT added.

The regulator claims consumers are more likely to buy if prompted to by reviewers than by advertising.

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the goods and consumer group at the OFT, says: ‘When looking at online reviews and comments, it is important that consumers are not misled about the status of what they are reading – who has written it and why it has been written. In particular, they need to know whether that reviewer is receiving any form of payment for promoting the product.

“Innovative and vibrant businesses drive our economy but it is important that online businesses develop without compromising consumer protection. Ensuring transparency and fairness in online transactions is a key priority for the OFT and we will continue to take action when appropriate.”

MoreNiche has agreed to suspend affiliates that do not remove misleading comments.