What are fake reviews?

Fake online reviews appear to be by a genuine customer, but are actually paid for by the seller - unlike real product reviews.

Often the seller gives away their product to the reviewer for free to review it. They might also pay the person to write a review.

Positive reviews are very important for marketplace sellers as potential customers are more likely to buy something if others have bought and enjoyed it.

Verified reviews are even more desired because they’re seen as the most honest and truthful reviews.

But these can also be bought by sellers paying genuine people for a good review by giving them the product for free.

A Which? investigation found scores of groups on social media dedicated to these incentivised reviews.

Each of the sellers had varying instructions on what people had to do after buying the product in order to get a refund.

This varied from a mandatory five star review to waiting a few days to post.

Here are our nine top tips to avoid fake reviews.

1 Inspect the comments

Don’t rely on star ratings alone. Look at the comments about the product as well and think about the following questions:

  • Is the reviewer being over the top about the product?
  • Is the review too long or too short?
  • Does the review include specifics about the product?
  • How much useful information does the review give about the product itself?

Think about what you might say about a product you liked and see how the reviews stack up against that.

2 Watch out for suspicious language

If it reads like an infomercial, it’s probably a fake review instead of an honest real product review.

Some examples might be:

  • These £2 sunglasses are the best thing in the world. They’ve changed my life. I can stare directly at the sun for hours.
  • Once I bought this snake oil for £170, I felt like a new person. My hair grew 5cm overnight and I instantly dropped 10kg.

And look out for reviews written all in capitals, with odd formatting or simply have no punctuation at all.

3 Check the dates

If a lot of the reviews were posted at the same time, the seller might have done a big drive on Facebook groups or other platforms to drum up feedback - so be wary.

4 Check the reviewers’ other reviews

You can almost always check to see what other reviews someone has left other products or services by clicking on their account.

If they’ve reviewed lots of other products, it’s likely their praise has been bought.

Similarly, if they’ve reviewed everything they’ve ever bought with five stars, they’re probably not reliable or truthful reviewers.

Check if they’ve bought the same thing a number of times too - that could mean they’re a member of a review group.

5 Pay attention to mid-range reviews

Three or four star reviews are worth paying attention to, as they’re more likely to be honest real product reviews than those at the extreme end of the spectrum.

And look out for patterns. If a seller gets a bad review then a flurry of positive reviews, it’s likely they’re trying to bury the bad one and bring back up their average score.

But, keep in mind it’s not unheard of for competitors to write terrible one star reviews on another’s product to drag their average scores down.

6 Watch out for admitted bias

If someone hasn’t read the book or used the product, why are they reviewing it?

Most people would wait to try something before recommending it or dissuading other people from buying it too.

Often, the reviewer will promise to change or update their review after they’ve tried it, but almost never will.

7 Look for verified purchases

While they can be influenced by sellers, verified reviews are still much more reliable than ones posted anonymously.

Verified reviews are ones the marketplace can confirm were bought through their site.

Non-verified reviews mean the marketplace couldn’t confirm where they bought that product or what price they paid for it.

On most marketplaces, ‘verified purchase’ or something similar will appear next to the reviewer’s name.

8 Check out what else the reviewers bought

On some marketplace sites other products that reviewers bought will appear in a section at the bottom. This should help you judge whether the review is real.

If they’ve bought many very similar items or a lot of totally unconnected items, the reviewer might be getting the products for free in exchange for a good review.

Exercise your judgement depending on the type of product.

For example, it’s unlikely one person would have needed to buy five battery packs recently and reviewed them all positively.

In contrast, someone looking to become a vegetarian is more likely to have purchased and reviewed five vegetarian cookbooks, giving the seller a variety of ratings and feedback.

9 Use an online tool

If you use all the above methods and you’re still not sure about the validity of the review, there are two online tools you can use to help you check for fake reviews.

One is Fakespot and the other is ReviewMeta which both allow you to copy and paste a product’s URL into the site.

They then analyse the reviews for telltale signs of fakery.

10 What to do if you find a fake review

If you spot a review which you think is fake, you’re normally able to report or flag it to the marketplace as inappropriate.

The marketplace will be alerted and may look into why it’s been flagged.

If you think you’ve been mislead and you’ve bought from a retailer online, you’re able to cancel and return  the order.

You can exercise your right to cancel at any time from the moment you place the order and up to 14 days after taking ownership of the goods.

You then have a further 14 days from the date you notified the seller of your intention to cancel to return the goods.

Read more on online returns rights.

If you bought from an individual, you have fewer rights but misrepresenting goods is still not allowed. Putting it right can be tricky.

Read more on how to return something you bought from an individual seller.

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