How to spot a fake review
Many of us rely on customer reviews to help narrow down our options when shopping online, but unscrupulous sellers have muddied the waters with fake reviews, artificially inflating the ratings of their products to mislead consumers.
Fake reviews aren't always easy to spot, and may appear to be written by genuine customers, but often there's more to these reviews than meets the eye.
A seller could give away their product to the reviewer for free, or refund them after a review has been written. They might also pay the person an additional incentive to write a review.
In some cases, fake reviews could be entirely fabricated by someone who has never bought, seen or used the product or service.
Top tips on how to spot fake reviews
Fake reviews aren't always obvious – often it's about patterns of fake activity rather than any single review in isolation. There are plenty of things you can look out for though, to decide whether to be suspicious, or confident in having made an informed purchase.
If it looks too good to be true...
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.
Also 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 positive feedback through incentivisation.
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.
Take extra care buying unknown brands
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 the 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.
Inspect the comments
Don’t be seduced by a high overall rating – read the reviews with the following questions in mind:
- Does the review have an extremely high percentage of five-star reviews? Consider how likely it is that so many people found the product to be 'perfect'. Is the reviewer going over the top about the product in the language? For some this may be natural, but if it happens a lot, be wary.
- Does the review contain lots of pictures? Our investigations have found this is a common request from sellers who incentivise positive reviews.
- Does the review include specifics about the experience with the product? Ultimately, keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary – if it seems too good to be true, it often is.
Watch out for suspicious language
If it reads like an infomercial, it’s probably a fake review instead of an honest real product review.
And look out for reviews written all in capitals, with odd formatting or simply have no punctuation at all.
Are reviews about the actual product?
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.
Check the less positive reviews
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.
Watch out for admitted bias
If someone hasn’t read the book, used the product, or visited the location, then 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.
Look for verified purchases
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.
Check out what else the reviewers bought
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.
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.
They then analyse the reviews for telltale signs of fakery.
Can you spot a fake review?
Take our quiz to find out if you can tell a real review from a fake.
How to report 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.
- Amazon has a 'report' button attached to each review. You can also to report any issues.
- On eBay, select the ‘See all reviews’ option in the product reviews section. Underneath each review, a small exclamation mark symbol allows you to report it.
- On Trustpilot, a flag symbol on each review allows you to report it
Know your consumer rights
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.