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4 Clever Ways to Outsmart Fake Reviews

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Nearly 40 percent of online reviews for products, restaurants, and hotels are fake. Here, our pros share the inside scoop that’ll help you pinpoint feedback you can truly trust.

For products: Enlist free tools.

More than half of us have trouble telling the difference between imposter reviews and the real deal. The solution: Log on to websites that spot phonies for you, such as Fakespot (which analyzes Best Buy and Yelp) and ReviewMeta.com (for Amazon).

“Copy and paste the product’s page URL into the search bar [of review scanning sites] to learn whether the reviews are trustworthy,” advises Jason Brown of Review Fraud.

Visiting a website not analyzed by these tools? Click on a reviewer’s profile and look for misspellings, which often signal the work of “review farms.” And if posts contain generic phrases such as top-notch or first-class, they’re likely fake: When we’re telling the truth, we tend to avoid clichés.

For restaurants: Spot visual clues.

Descriptions that allow you to “see” the restaurant — such as how big it is inside and what parking is like — are more reliable, says online deception researcher Jeff Hancock, PhD. “Since fake reviewers have never visited, they can’t share spatial details,” he explains. “These are visual facts you’d only know if you’ve been there.”

Also smart: Keep an eye out for an excess of “I” sentences: “When people are lying, they tend to use the first person more often in an attempt to seem authentic.”

For hotels: Focus on ‘secret’ keys.

Travel sites like Tripadvisor are cracking down on deceptive reviews, but lots of them still get through.

Until they’re eliminated completely, authentic feedback describes a handful of key aspects about the hotel, says Hancock. “These include specifics about the room, such as how comfortable the bed is, and the hotel’s location, like if it’s close to certain shops.”

What to watch out for? Be wary when reviewers focus too much on what they did on their trip. This hints they were never really there, because they’re describing actions, not the hotel itself.

Another tip-off: If they gush over amenities that you’re less likely to care about, such as “business services” or the square footage of the convention space, it could mean they were written by hotel employees, says Hancock. “These are details industry people talk about, not guests.”

Save more money skipping these words:

  • Sidestep “sponsored.” After entering the type of product (like “air fryer”) into the search bar at Amazon or Best Buy, keep in mind that the first few choices aren’t always the highest-rated. Companies pay for that top placement. Just look for the word sponsored, and skip them.
  • Beware of “bestseller.” When online retailers add the word bestseller to a listing, it may not mean much. Some companies artificially boost the number of sales by slashing the price temporarily, because they know once they can add bestseller to an item, they’ll be able to sell more at a higher price.
  • Forget “featured.” When looking at products, the default listing is typically the retailer’s featured option, which lists items that generate more profit but aren’t always the best choice. Simply click the “sort by” menu to re-sort by price or ratings.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

We write about products we think our readers will like. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the supplier.

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