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5 Tips for Spotting Fake Customer Reviews of Products

Published
By Mitch Lipka, consumer advocate for dealnews

Looking at other customer reviews before making a purchase seems like a great idea. For many, the comments have an enormous impact on that final decision. Companies know that, though, and some have taken to unsavory methods to inflate positive impressions of their products. The travel site TripAdvisor.com, for example, has been dogged for years by accusations of hotels using shills or their own employees to paint a far rosier picture of what a stay might be like. And a cosmetic surgery group was sued by New York's attorney general for paying employees to plant fake endorsements around the web — a practice known as "astroturfing."

The same thing could affect the sites that sell and accept reviews of cameras, TVs or laptops. What if they are filled with fakes?

Those seeking reviews want to know what they are reading is real and how to filter out the fakes so that they can use the information the way it was intended — to help you make a choice on what product to buy based on other user's experiences.

The ideal, of course, is that the verification is done for you. Amazon.com is a good example of a site that realizes the importance of consumers being able to trust the reviews. The company also screens comments for spam, links and other problems that have plagued other sites. It did not, however, respond to a request to discuss policing reviews.

Since it's nearly impossible to monitor millions of individuals' reviews, Amazon set up a system connected to purchases, which greatly inhibits the ability to simply invent a user name and type a review. The program, called Real Name, is what it seems — a reward for users for entering reviews using their real names. Those reviews are given more credibility because a person who is connected to a credit card number made a purchase on the site and is using their real name.

You don't, ultimately, have to use your real name for reviews. But the end-user can then filter out the reviews that don't have real names attached as a way of sorting through the dross and focus on those who take seriously the role they are playing in influencing other consumers. That doesn't mean the system is foolproof. There are people who spend their time figuring out how to beat every set-up.

So, here are some tips for reading reviews and avoiding the fakes:

  • If you see a review you're interested in, check to see what other reviews that reviewer has posted. Beware if they've posted only on products of a certain company or multiple products in a line, such as four different laptops of the same brand.
  • Be skeptical of overly glowing language, particularly when repeated in multiple reviews.
  • Pay less attention to the best and worst reviews than those that are not at the extremes.
  • Report reviews that you believe to be fake (sometimes it's pretty obvious) to help police the system.
  • Watch out for reviews that try to defend problems cited in negative reviews.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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9 comments
gizmovision
I enjoy Paid reviewers not posting so on their 'review' site... the sites that sell the same items they reviewed so great and high...( those sold on TV type items come to mind)
craigtgrabetz
http://overstock.com is guilty of this (had a personal experience)
mb643
Dealguy, it was http://HandHeldItems.com. MB
changiz
Mitch,
where should we report out complaint. Resellerratings doesn't look to be the best one since they are a bussiness themself and make money by having other resellers adds in their site, its just make you think.
Is there any other place on internet that we can write about our complaints and also fradulent resellers.
Shiawase
It's easy to tell the fake reviews. They sound like advertising: "It is the best product and works wonderfully!" It provides no details and tells you nothing about the product, except how great it is.

It's also important to notice that enthusiasm does not really indicate a fake review. When you love a product you give it an enthusiastic review. Most people who feel that a product is just OK won't bother to review it. It has to be great or terrible.
dealguy
Hey MB, what store was it?
mb643
Mitch or others in the know,
Your article caught my eye because of a recent experience. I purchased a product from a online store featured regularly on dealnews. I submitted a product review that was modified by their editors shortly after it was posted, and the end product did not reflect my opinion (even the summary rating I gave was changed to a higher grade). I also submitted a second review which was posted in real time, but was deleted soon thereafter. After an unsatisfying response from their customer service, I filed a complaint with the BBB and posted a review on ResellerRatings. Is there any better place to report this type of issue?

Thanks,
MB
emmayche
Allyson, a company is judged by most people not by their products - everyone who stays in business for any length of time has acceptable products - nor by their problems - everyone has problems at one time or another.

The way that most people judge companies - as I do - is by how they HANDLE their problems; that is, by their customer service. If I buy a lemon product from a company, call them and let them know, and they send me a replacement without even having to ask for it, that company will continue to get my business, perhaps even in preference to other companies with which I have had no problems at all. (Of course, if EVERY SINGLE THING I order has a problem, at some point I'm going to get tired of dealing with it - but even for us conservatives, intent counts for much.)
Allyson
Interesting as I was unable to use my own name to post here since it was already taken. Anyway, what annoys me is when people get angry about review comments that don't necessarily have to do with a product. For example, I purchased a couple of items from Amazon because of the comments about how good this small company's customer service handled a problem. I have yet to leave any reviews because I'm sure that many people would comment on the fact that my review is not based on the products themselves, but on how the customer service response was.
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