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How to Spot Fake Online Reviews and False Advertising

Protect yourself.

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The internet is a wonderful place. Within seconds, you can learn something, talk to someone, or buy whatever from wherever. Shopping online, however, can get hairy. Yes, you can find just about anything you want from anywhere in the world, but because of the anonymity that online shopping affords, scammers abound. Some of the trickier tactics scammers use to get you to buy false products or share your information are through fake product reviews, phony advertisements, and fraudulent websites. Read on to see how you can spot these fishy internet scams so you can keep yourself safe while you do your holiday online shopping.

Avoid bait and switches.

Some companies advertise products with pretty photos that bear little resemblance to the actual item. To outsmart this tactic, just drag the product image into the Google search bar. This will show you anywhere that photo is posted online. If it appears on a site where the product is being sold for a much higher price, the image was likely stolen.

Spot bogus websites.

If the item you’re considering buying is being sold on a website you’ve never heard of, just type the web address into Whois.DomainTools.com or the Domain Age Checker at DupliChecker.com. These sites tell you how long the website has been around — if it’s only been active for a few months or less, chances are it’s not legit.

Fend off social media scams.

Saw a must-have item advertised on social media? Check if the ad has any comments. If it says there are “x” number of them, yet when you click to see them, very few show up, that’s a sign that whoever posted the ad is deleting comments that are trying to warn others that the ad is a scam.

Look for suspicious dates.

“Timing can tell you a lot about a review,” says Christen da Costa, CEO of Gadget Review. “If you see a lot of reviews posted on the same day, it’s a red flag that they’re not genuine.” Some unscrupulous companies will pay for positive appraisals to flood a site within a few hours or days — the goal is not just to give the product an inflated rating but also to rank highly in Google search results. The review may also be fake if it was posted right after the product came out, especially if it’s for electronics someone would need to use over a few weeks to develop an impression. Also smart: Amazon, Yelp, and many other sites disclose if the reviewer bought the item — a sign the review is likely genuine.

Question generic profiles.

“A common tactic fake reviewers use is creating a username that doesn’t include any personal information,” says Oberon Copeland of Very Informed. “They don’t want to be tracked down, so their username will typically only include a very common first name, like John or Mary, followed by random numbers or symbols that signal it was auto-generated.” The same anonymity will apply to when you click on their name — all identifying fields (age, gender, location) will be blank. Something else to keep in mind: Counterfeit reviewers often create a new account for each rating they write, so if they only have one review registered to their name, that can be a sign that the account isn’t real.

Keep an eye out for awkward grammar.

When companies pay for illegitimate reviews, they often hire people outside the US or use “bots” — computer programs that create fake profiles. Either way, the result is usually a review with “spotty” English. Red flags include overly formal language like “utilize” instead of “use,” or spelling out contractions like “can not.” “An over-the-top tone or all caps also point to a fake,” says consumer analyst Katie Roberts from Deal News. “Other signs are when people add the name of their company, which suggests they’re just trying to promote themselves.” Good to know: Sites like Fakespot.com and ReviewMeta.com can scan any product page on Amazon to detect fake reviews.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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