From the Magazine

How to Spot Fake Reviews Online

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Checking out what other consumers think before you make a purchase is smart, but studies show at least one in 10 reviews are from fake or paid customers. Here, we discuss how to uncover impostors.  

Review the reviewer.

“Amazon is the king of review sites, but it’s also the most manipulated,” says onlineshopping expert Jeffrey Contray of DealNews. And while it’s against Amazon’s policy for reviewers to be compensated, fraud remains a huge problem. There are even underground “review mills” that hire people to crank out opinion spam to artificially inflate a brand’s popularity. Before trusting a rating, scan the reviewer’s history: Lots of five-star raves or reviews for only one brand may suggest a bias.

Also smart: “Filter Amazon reviews by ‘Verified purchase only’ to weed out suspect reviews,” says Contray. Those orange tags mean reviewers really bought the items in question.

Look for these words.

Word choice can offer clues into a reviewer’s reliability. Experts at Cornell University created a program that identified deceptive online hotel reviews with nearly 90 percent accuracy, and found that truth-tellers used specifics like “floor” and “small bathroom.” As researcher Claire Cardie, PhD, explains, “Liars have difficulty encoding spatial information into lies.” But the biggest red flag was the use of “I.” Cardie says, “We speculate deceivers are attempting to enhance their credibility by emphasizing their own presence.”

Also smart: Check for similarities between the review and the company’s product description. If reviewers regurgitate the marketing lingo, it can signal bias.

Note the date stamp.

Heed drastic shifts in archived reviews. If a poorly rated product suddenly has all five-star reviews, it could mean the company began paying for the positive feedback. Or if the opposite happens — a product that had earned raves suddenly gets panned — it could be a sign that materials in the product were downgraded or the company switched suppliers, impacting the product’s quality or reliability, says Heather MacKenzie of BestReviews.com, which tests products to find the best models.

Also smart: Be wary of a reviewer who has posted dozens of reviews in a short time. Brand managers, not average shoppers, post reviews like it’s their job.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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