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How to spot fake product reviews online

Say you’re doing a little online shopping and run across a product that looks amazing. Before you buy, though, you want to make sure it’s a good-quality product that works as advertised. The big question is “How?”

If you’re buying from a trusted seller, then you might just depend upon the seller’s reputation. Otherwise, you’re probably going to look at the product reviews other customers have left on the site, or other reviews you find online.

That’s a good plan, but be careful because all may not be as it seems. Marketing firms often pay people to leave reviews on major seller sites. And if you’re reading a blog site, the reviewer might have gotten a free sample of the product in exchange for a favorable review, so take any overly positive reviews with a grain of salt. Or it could be a site started expressly to promote a product.

Even legitimate reviews might be unhelpful. Maybe the reviewer went overboard with unwarranted praise or criticism. You don’t want to base your decision on faulty information.

Unfortunately, most fake or faulty reviews aren’t as easy to spot. However, there are signs you can watch for, and we’re going to look at four.

Before we go into the signs, however, there’s one general rule we need to mention. You should never base a buying decision off of only one online review, whether it’s positive or negative.

Look around the shopping site you’re on, and other shopping sites or online sources, for more reviews. Additional reviews will help you get a picture of what the product is really like.

Also, don’t just go by star ratings because every reviewer has different things they consider pros and cons. Here’s an example.

Looking at reviews for a printer recently, some people gave it five stars and mentioned that it used ink a little fast but print quality was great. Other people gave it one star and said print quality was great but it burned through ink.

It was the same information from completely different viewpoints. So, don’t just skim but read the pros and cons carefully.

OK, now for the signs of fake or unhelpful reviews.

1. Non-factual/Overly factual reviews

Facts are important in a review. Staying factual can protect you from a lawsuit. However, factual tips are also more useful for everyone.

If you see a string of reviews that are heavy on the adjectives (“Amazing!” “Fantastic!” “Life-changing!”) and light on facts, skip them. You’re looking for reviews that tell you what specific features the reviewer found that make it a good, or bad, product.

In fact, it often saves time to skip 5-star reviews and look at the 4-star and 1-star reviews to see what negatives people mention. Again, however, any negatives need to be backed up with facts. “It was terrible” tells you a lot less than, “It worked fine for three weeks and then the power button fell off.”

On the other end of the spectrum, you might find reviews that have too many facts with no conclusions. It might just be a list of product features with no information about how the product impacted the reviewer. That’s a sign the reviewer is just copying the features list and doesn’t actually own the product.

Amazon does have a “verified purchase” tag on some reviews to show that the person did actually buy the product. Be sure to look for that when you’re considering reviews on Amazon.

2. Similar reviews

There have been plenty of times we’ve been researching a product and started noticing a similarity in the reviews across several websites. In one case, nearly every review was posted on the same day. That’s certainly a red flag, and the fact that none of the reviews was very factual was just the icing.

For another product, every positive review we found online was the same exact review. The author’s name was even the same on every site. That’s not a coincidence, that’s just plain lazy on some marketer’s part.

Reading through a string of reviews on Amazon, you might notice a whole collection that uses similar word groupings and writing style. That’s usually a warning flag as well. It means the reviewers are either copying the manufacturer’s information or the same person wrote them all.

3. New reviewers

Watch out for product reviews from new accounts or new websites. True, the person might have created the account just to buy that product, but some of the reviews should be from long-time members of the site.

Most shopping sites, such as Amazon, let you see the profile of the person leaving the review. That way, you can see what they’ve reviewed in the past. Find out what your Amazon profile reveals about you and how to take control of it.

You might find the person has reviewed hundreds of widely dissimilar products, which gives them a bit more credibility than someone who’s only reviewed a few items from the same manufacturer. It helps, too, if some of those reviews had factual criticisms.

4. Few reviews

The only thing worse than tons of suspicious reviews is very few reviews. You’re left with no way to make comparisons. At that point, every review becomes suspicious, especially if they only appear in out-of-the-way blogs and websites.

For example, there might be a “too-good-to-be-true” tech product for sale that doesn’t have a review, or even a mention, on any reputable tech site. Or you might have to go to page 10 of Google’s search results to even find a review of the product you’re after.

In those cases, give it a miss. You’re better off buying a competitor that has more reviews, or just not buying that type of product entirely.

What are your tricks for researching products online? Let us know in the comments.

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