When buying a product you haven’t used before, what’s the most common way to make sure it lives up to what’s being advertised? User reviews, which give you the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly sides of any products listed on the site. They can be a big help when shopping online. Tap or click here for safer online shopping and banking tips.
The whole point of user reviews is they are opinions from unbiased users, so they give you confidence to buy or avoid products you’re considering. Did the gadget break shortly after the warranty expired, or did the product not work as expected? An ad won’t tell you that, but a review will.
Unfortunately, though, not all reviews can be trusted. Some of the largest retail sites are having major issues with fake reviews — the problem is getting so bad that you need to know how to spot the real ones.
The problem with fake reviews
Reviews are especially important right now, as most people have pivoted their shopping habits to online retailers during the pandemic, but not all reviews can be trusted. According to CNBC, some of your favorite online retailers — Amazon, Walmart, and eBay — are having serious issues with fake reviews.
Related: Amazon’s policy to keep third-party sellers from ripping you off
Thousands of fake reviews have flooded Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and others in recent months. The issue has gotten so bad that Amazon recently had to remove 20,000 reviews following an investigation that uncovered the fact that top Amazon reviewers in the U.K. were engaging in fraud.
These issues have caused huge brands to sever ties with Amazon, according to CNBC.
Many of these fake reviews originate from Facebook groups explicitly targeting members to write paid positive reviews in return for small payments or refunds on their purchases. Other more sophisticated methods utilize bots and click farms to upvote negative reviews, which helps cut down on the competition among sellers.
This issue was also noted in a joint UCLA and USC study released in July, which found more than 20 fake review-related Facebook groups, with an average of 16,000 members. Researchers found that in more than 560 postings each day, sellers were offering a refund or payment of about $6 on average for a positive review.
There are a number of problems that stem from fake reviews. Not only do they give customers false reassurance that products they’re buying are authentic and work as described, but they also helped boost sales of unsafe products and hurt business for legitimate sellers.
Amazon told CNBC that it uses “powerful machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyze over 10 million review submissions weekly, aiming to stop abusive reviews before they are ever published.”
Related: Six ways to protect your Amazon account
How to spot fake reviews
While retailers can employ sophisticated methods to help cut down on fake review issues, you still need to know how to spot them from the real ones as a consumer. To help spot fake reviews:
Use services like Fakespot and ReviewMeta
Both Fakespot and ReviewMeta are browser extensions that can be used to vet reviews on sites like Amazon. They’re easy to install and use, and Fakespot will even help you find the best prices on your products, too. Tap or click here for more about both Fakespot and ReviewMeta, as well as how to install them.
You should be skeptical about products with either very few perfect 5-star reviews or ONLY 5-star reviews. Some users aren’t going to like a product, even if it works as advertised, and that should be reflected in reviews. Several reviews posted in a short time frame — especially high-rated reviews — can also be a sign of fake reviews from a service or group.
Watch for repetitive or vague reviews
If you see a listing with tons of high-rated reviews, check to make sure they don’t all sound similar. Several similar 5-star reviews could be a sign they are fake. The same goes for vague or nonspecific reviews — if a user has something to say about a product, it won’t be general. It will touch on specific positives and negatives of the product.
Look for user photos
Real users post photos of products they’re reviewing, so if the review has photos posted, it’s probably real. That isn’t always the case, mind you, but it’s much more likely that a real user is going to post real photos from their use of the product.
Watch out for sloppy grammar
Sloppy writing and poor English in a review is often a sign that it’s fake. Misspellings and grammar issues happen, but if you’re noticing broken English or major errors, be wary of the review.
Fake reviews are just one negative to come from a world of good that is connected to shopping online. Follow the guidelines we’ve outlined above and you should be able to spot fake reviews and avoid all the risks that come with them.