Fake reviews aren't always easy to spot, but pose a significant and persistent problem for websites that host customer reviews, and customers who rely on them to make a purchase.
Our research and investigations have exposed a range of ways fakers manipulate customer scores to cheat their way to the top. But while their techniques are often sophisticated, there are things you can do to stay one step ahead.
Read on for our top tips on spotting a fake review.
Find out why fake reviews could make you twice as likely to choose a poor quality product.
Don't just go by the overall score to make an impulse purchase. Read through the reviews, and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
A healthy degree of skepticism is your best weapon against fake reviews. If a product has an unusually high number of reviews relative to others in that category, especially if these reviews are overwhelmingly positive, you'd be right to exercise caution.
A Which? investigation into fake reviews found the five best-rated headphones had almost 5,500 unverified reviews – those where Amazon doesn’t know if the product has been purchased – with hundreds of five-star reviews arriving on a product in the same day.
In the vast majority of cases, fakers request or manipulate reviews to ensure they get a full, five-star rating. One way to get a more balanced view of a product is to ignore these altogether – check the four, three and two star reviews and it's likely you'll be getting more honest opinions.
While many smaller brands that you don't recognise could be honest start-ups trying to find an audience in a crowded market, others attempt to take shortcuts to jump to the top of the listings. Time and again we've found fake reviews on brands we didn't recognise, and on most occasions it's difficult or impossible to get in touch with the brand to find out more.
If you don't recognise a brand, check online to see if it has a legitimate looking website, with clear contact details so you can get in touch if anything goes wrong. You could even try calling or emailing the seller with a question, to see how quickly they respond.
In our fake reviews investigations, we've found repeated evidence of 'review merging' on Amazon – this is when reviews for entirely different products are listed under the product you're looking at.
If you see evidence of this, be especially wary, as it's possible the seller is deliberately manipulating the product listing to make it seem more appealing to buyers.
Negative reviews can be eye-openers. Some might complain about the product failing over time, have a negative opinion about the style or feel, or even cite issues with delivery or customer service – problems that might not necessarily apply to everyone.
On the other hand, consistent criticism of quality, a specific aspect of functionality, or surprise that so many reviews are so positive could be seen as more of a warning sign. Look out for any evidence that reviews are incentivised, perhaps with the offer of a gift card or a full or partial refund.
And look out for patterns. If a seller gets a bad review then a flurry of positive reviews, it’s possible they’re trying to bury the bad one and bring back up their average score.
It can also be useful to check feedback on the seller for insights on how other customers found the service.
If someone hasn’t read the book, used the product, or visited the location, 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.
While they can be influenced by sellers, 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.
You can almost always check to see what other reviews someone has left on products or services by clicking on their account. 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, and all the ratings are overwhelmingly positive, the reviewer might be getting the products for free in exchange for a good review.
Exercise your judgment 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.
If you use all the above methods and you’re still not sure about the validity of the review, there are online tools you can use to help you check for fake reviews.
Take our quiz to find out if you can tell a real review from a fake.
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 misled 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.
If you bought from an individual, you have fewer rights but misrepresenting goods is still not allowed. Putting it right can be tricky.