Watch Out for Fake Reviews

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Fake news has a new BFF. Meet the fake review, a product evaluation posted by a company employee, paid individual or anyone with a financial stake in increasing product sales.

fake reviews, reviewer, online shoppingIn the world of e-commerce, reviews are the best indicator of success or failure. A good review is the absolute best advertising, especially for an Internet-based company. Online shopping is an easy way to make a purchase, and with many options to choose from, product reviews weigh heavily in decision making.

Buyers look for five-star ratings, enthusiastic guests, over-the-top accolades and unbeatable performance. What does that say about us? It suggests a 30- to 50–word commentary written by a complete stranger influences our purchases. It does.

Most of us think we’re good at spotting bogus claims but it turns out we’re not as good as we think we are. We’re easy to exploit when it comes to believing fake reviews.

Inflated Product Ratings

It’s not difficult to read a highly rated product review and believe it’s true.  Most of us do not take the time to explore the accuracy of the evaluation or look for red flags. A product with one or two false claims is not unusual, but when all the reviews are five star it points to an inflated rating, likely posted by the seller, a paid commentator, or a competitor.

When researching a product, it’s just as important to review the reviewer.  Conduct your own Google search; many sites require sign in through email, Facebook or other social networks prior to commenting. By clicking their profile, you confirm they’re a real person, whereas false posters have no social media presence. Beware the company with nothing but positive reviews and no online presence.

Another red flag is the inability to contact customer service. If you don’t receive the product or it fails to work, you are unlikely to get a refund or replacement. Posting a negative review won’t matter. A one-star review means nothing—they don’t care.

Fake Reviews: Too Good to Be True

Good reviews drive commerce and web-based stores need positive feedback to be profitable. Top evaluations appear first in search results so businesses pay people to write fake reviews. These high ratings often have labels like Amazon’s Choice, Reader’s Choice, or Top Pick, furthering the best-product misconception.

Well-reviewed products overshadow competitors, and products or pages with bad reviews remain unseen through the use of website algorithms. According to a Cornell University study, consumers are horrible at discerning the difference between real endorsements and fake reviews.

How to Spot a Fake Review

Yes-No-Maybe, Thumbs Up-Thumbs DownA little knowledge about counterfeit reviews significantly reduces buyer’s remorse.  Remember, the fictional reviewer can’t accurately describe a product or service they haven’t experienced. The warnings below don’t automatically signal a false positive, but they will help you differentiate the real from the fake.

  • Lacks detail:  fake reviews offer general praise rather than specifics. A factual review includes descriptive details. Truthful reviews use concrete words relating to the venue, product, or experience 
  • First Person Pronouns:  Words like ‘I’ and ‘me’ appear more often in fake reviews, because the writer attempts to personalize the experience to the reader.
  • More Verbs than Nouns:  Language analysis shows fake reviews tend to include more verbs as the writers substitute pleasant or alarming stories for actual experience. Genuine reviews are heavier on nouns. 
  • Time-stamped Reviews:  Numerous five-star reviews that are time stamped to the same day or hour mean It’s likely someone is writing fake reviews, artificially boosting a product’s reputation. 

Contrary to what you might think, robots and AI aren’t the main perpetrators of fake reviews—people are. Mainstream websites like Amazon are good at catching and removing bot reviews and use IP addresses to find suspicious reviews.


FakeSpot is a free site that analyzes product reviews to help find the fakes. Copy and paste the URL in question and Fakespot will analyze the link.

Fakespot began by applying its algorithms to Amazon, then added TripAdvisor and Yelp support. The company now has search engines for Best Buy, Sephora, Steam and Walmart. Worth noting:  Fakespot found over 50 percent of Walmart reviews to be “unauthentic and unreliable,” compared to fewer than 5 percent of Best Buy reviews.

Their system analyzes reviews and reviewers, searching for suspect spelling, grammar, number of postings, purchasing patterns, mismatched dates and obvious signs of questionable authenticity. A reviewer with only one posting using generic words like awesome and amazing is unreliable.

Once the analysis is complete, Fakespot provides a letter grade measuring total reviews against unreliable reviews. When a large percentage is unreliable, shoppers are less inclined to purchase the item.

Extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari also allow online shoppers to analyze a webpage with the push of a button.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Books are a big exception to fake reviews. You may not agree with the reviewer, but there is no financial incentive to undermine an honest critique of the book.

fake reviewsWriters and publishers send out Advance Reader Copies of books to professional book reviewers, librarians, book scouts, and established web site bloggers. Editors and authors can rig the system, but professional reviewers receive no compensation other than a free book.

Buyer Beware

It’s an old adage that holds true. Many products do not perform as advertised. A product receiving three stars is not as compelling as a five-star shout out. Businesses are desperate to retain market share in the online world and their success depends on positive ratings. Anything can become a best seller with enough fake reviews.

Black Friday is days away. Aggressive and unethical businesses will attempt to get competitors suspended from sites like Amazon by purchasing bad fake reviews in order to dominate the holiday shopping frenzy.

It pays to be an educated and cautious consumer.

This entry was posted in Lifestyle & Culture, Susanne Skinner and tagged , , , , , by Aline Kaplan. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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