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How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

Why some business representatives think that trashing the competition is the quickest way to the top is beyond us here at Trackur, but more and more are doing it online every day. Whether it be review sites, blogs, or even Facebook – it seems that no one is safe from the fake reviews or comments these days.

Let me be frank here for a moment. This does NOT work. No matter how sneaky/tricky/brilliant you think you are with your made-up review or comment, you’re not fooling many, if anyone. Did you know that website owners can look up your IP address to see where your post is coming from? You may think this is a good way to get a leg up on your competition, but really, it’s just making you look foolish. Even if you get away with it for a while, when word gets out, you’ll just look silly at best. Worst case scenario, you (and possibly your business) will be banned from the site that you’re posting to.

Let’s just all agree to stop doing this, alright?

I promise, going to your boss and having to explain that the reason your hotel is no longer listed on a popular travel site is because you logged in from work and posted fake negative reviews about your competition having a bed bug outbreak is not going to do you or your business any favors. Posting numerous glowing reviews filled with marketing-speak (panoramic views! well-appointed guest accommodations! luxurious linens!) in favor of your brand is also not working, so just stop, okay?

Have you ever heard the saying “Live in such a way that if anyone should speak badly of you, no one would believe it”? This is a far better philosophy to follow than trying to undermine your competition. In fact, if your competition is running their business this way, and you do try to trash them online, guess who ends up looking bad? Hint: not them.

According to technology research firm Gartner, an estimated 10-15% of online reviews will be fake or paid for by 2014. So, as a consumer, how do you pick out the real from the fabricated? Here are a few tips:

  • Pay Attention – As a consumer or a site owner, take notice of someone posting multiple reviews in a short amount of time, especially if they’re obviously favorable or negative towards a specific product or business. For site owners, take a look at where a review is coming from. The same town as your client’s hotel? This may be a competitor, not a past guest.
  • Look At The Date – If a review is published before the product being reviewed is released, it is likely not authentic.
  • Check Out Other Reviews – On sites like Amazon, Yelp or TripAdvisor, take a look at the user’s profile and read other reviews that they’ve posted. If their only reviews are praise for one particular place or product, or complaints about a particular place or product, they’re likely untrue.
  • Be Cautious of Black and White – If a review is all positive or all negative, take a good look at what it says. Often, especially with consumer products, people will find pros and cons in just about anything. If the review is filled with nothing but glowing praise or complete hatred, it may be worth a closer look.
  • Look At The Lingo – Keep an eye out for industry-specific terms that the average reviewer would not likely use. Most restaurant guests are not going to mention “delectable cuisine” when talking about their favorite restaurant.
  • Watch Out For Customerjacking – We’ve all seen the “I tried this product, hated it, and promptly bought the and I LOVE it! Go buy it here now for 20% off!” review. Does anyone fall for this? This also goes for reviewers who leave a link to their own site in their review. Instant credibility loss, horrible link-building tactic.
  • Watch Out For The Crazies – Whether they write in all caps, use terrible grammar, swear frequently, or put seven exclamation points at the end of every sentence (or right smack in the middle for extra emphasis. ) it is very hard to take these reviews seriously, let alone view them as credible. Legit or not, you likely won’t buy what they’re selling.

With all of the review fraud out there, is it even worth checking out online reviews? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Many sites are working on cracking down on fraudulent reviews, due to the importance of legitimate reviews for local and online businesses. Sites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor continue to work on their fraud detection, even allowing other reviewers and businesses to submit questionable reviews to be moderated. Yelp currently claims that a whopping 20% of reviews that are submitted to them are never published due to reviews not meeting their content guidelines. What does this mean for your business? Great things if you’re running your business properly. Especially if your competition is not.

The well-run, honest business that is looking out for its customers is always going to come out ahead in the long run, so keep up the good work!

Have you been the victim of an attack from a not-so-reputable business? Check out our tips on reputation damage control.

Whether they’re looking for a good restaurant or researching the best headphones, many people turn to online reviews. Trust in the masses is the mantra, and the average star rating can make or break a business.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that companies pay for reviews, give away products in exchange for reviews, or offer rebates for posting reviews — often with a strong suggestion to leave a positive rating. Phony reviews can also be used to badmouth competitors or disliked employers.

This poses a problem for ecommerce sites and consumers. Shoppers may make regrettable purchase decisions based on fake reviews. The reputations of retailers such as Amazon and review-centric businesses such as TripAdvisor and Yelp are tied to the validity of the posted reviews. Amazon had to sue several alleged sellers of reviews not long ago, saying they were undermining consumer trust and tarnishing the Amazon brand.

Many large websites work hard to detect fake reviews by tracking the computers where the reviews originate, searching for discernible patterns (e.g., a single reviewer giving multiple products very low or high scores), and flagging products that garner many reviews as soon as they’re listed. Some use algorithms to automatically filter out reviews they consider suspicious, based on analysis of fake reviews by researchers such as Bing Liu, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Regardless what vendors do, their attempts to root out inauthentic and useless reviews are hardly foolproof. Consumers must be alert to the scams, as well. Use the following tips and telltale signs to help identify and avoid misinformation.

A review is about the reviewer.

Genuine reviewers have used a product or visited a place before reviewing it. They tend to write about what a room looked like, how the product felt, or how large or small something was. Paid reviewers tend to focus on their own “experience,” why they went somewhere or bought something, or about the people who accompanied them.

A review summarizes the product’s specs.

If a review of a physical product does little more than list product features or specifications, without sharing any impressions of the product’s performance, it is likely fake.

A review doesn’t back up its claim.

When a review simply says a product or service is “great” or “terrible” without backing up the assertion with evidence, it may be fabricated. Even if that’s not the case, potential buyers learn little from such online posts.

The language is awkward.

Poorly formed sentences and odd-sounding phrases might be an indication that the review was bought from a writer working abroad. This isn’t a steadfast rule, as there are, of course, plenty of non-native English speakers who buy and review products and services, especially travel-related. But bad syntax can be a hint to dig further and maybe check the reviewer’s profile.

A reviewer’s profile is suspicious.

Reviews are sometimes bought in batches, and you may be able to tell if that’s the case by checking reviewers’ profiles. Have they reviewed many similar products in a short period? It’s unlikely that the average person would buy five computer monitors, for example. Similarly, have they posted multiple reviews for products from the same company or brand? Do they always seem to give very high or low marks? If “yes” to any of these questions, beware.

Dozens of reviews were posted within days.

A former paid reviewer writes on Money Talks News that often she’d be given a 48-hour deadline to write a review. The company that hired her sent the same assignment to several other writers and, as a result, a sudden rush of 10 to 50 reviews would appear. Check the dates and times of reviews for suspicious clusters.

A review stands out from the crowd.

If there are generally negative or positive reviews and one on the opposite end of the spectrum, read it warily. Maybe the person is having a really good or bad day, but regardless, it’s best to ignore such outliers.

Product names are too specific.

How product names can be a tip-off. The reviewer may use the full-blown product name, complete with model number, throughout the review, while most people just reference the product type or shorten the name. Alternatively, the reviewer might leave a negative review but mention a competitor’s product by name and brand.

A review was copied and pasted elsewhere.

A sure sign that a review is fake is that it has been used several times with only a few words changed. If a review looks suspicious, select a sentence and run it through a search engine. If the same review appears on a separate site and was posted by someone with a different username, that’s a red flag.

Try an online tool.

As fake online reviews become a problem for the web, the web looks for ways to beat them. The makers of Fakespot say they use proprietary technology to analyze millions of reviews and look for suspicious patterns. Users just paste in a product URL from Amazon, Yelp, or Apple’s App Store and get back a letter grade of authenticity and review-reading tips.

A link is slipped in.

Sometimes people take advantage of the fact that their reviews will be seen by many shoppers. They may post a semi-relevant sentence or two followed by a link to a similar product they are selling or to an entirely unrelated website. If a discount code is also included, the reviewer likely gets some sort of compensation when someone buys using that code.

A review is completely one-sided.

Even consumers who really like or dislike something often list a few pros and cons. Reviews that are overly positive or negative may be phony.

The star rating doesn’t match the text.

Glancing past the average star rating that a property, product, or experience gets and reading the reviews can be important. That’s not to say someone should read all 15,000 reviews of a famous hotel or restaurant, but when there are just a few reviews, each one can change the average rating drastically Even if the review isn’t fake, sometimes commenters do not match the number of stars to their experience — giving 4 or 5 stars, say, but writing that they were not impressed with the service.

Authenticity is not the end-all.

Even if reviews are based on personal experience, some should still be ignored. Consider who have stayed at a budget motel. Ideally they will compare it with similar motels. But if they were expecting a Four Seasons, their assessments will be skewed. Perhaps the travel agent or the motel’s marketing could be critiqued, but a budget motel is not a luxury hotel and should not be rated on that basis.

Seek out independent reviews.

If all else fails, try to find in-depth reviews from a third-party publisher, such as CNET, Consumer Reports, The Wirecutter, or Cheapism. Also check to see if the product manufacturer is represented elsewhere online. The New York Times highlighted one business buying reviews on Amazon that had no website and was registered to a mailbox in a Los Angeles suburb.

When Amazon allowed customers to post reviews of the books they bought in 1995, it changed the way people chose what to buy. Reviews had long been the provenance of gatekeepers: at that time, the newspapers and magazines that published book reviews. As Amazon branched out into other products, these customer reviews took the place of those in print media that covered specialist subjects such as computing, photography, and more.

Now, reviews are everywhere and most people seem inclined to put at least some faith in them. How many times have you seen a product on Amazon or another site, or a restaurant or hotel, with four- or five-star reviews and been disappointed by it after your direct experience?

This is because the review system on Amazon (and other websites) has been gamed. In this article, I’m going to tell you how you can spot fake reviews and I’ll show you a couple of websites that can help you sort the real reviews from the bogus.

Why Review?

Lots of people review products and services on the internet, but most people who do so only review items they really like or really hate. You’ll generally find more five-star reviews for many items and if something isn’t very good, you’ll find lots of one-star reviews. The latter are a good sign that something is amiss, but too many five-star reviews can be suspicious. In addition, many five-star reviews are not very elaborate. Often they just contain a few words. Here are some complete five-star reviews I’ve sourced from Amazon:

Quick shipping. Good for the price
Exactly as described, delivered on time.
It works great
Fantastic customer service and a great product

You’ll encounter reviews of this kind often when looking at electronics, gadgets, or other products that are made cheaply in China, but also for kitchenware, tools, and more. It’s obvious that these reviews say absolutely nothing about the product but in the overall rating they have a huge effect. This product gets an average of 4.2 out of 5 stars, in part because of “quick shipping.”

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

These reviews attempt to skew the overall score because that’s what most people look at; they generally don’t read the reviews, especially the longer ones. I do when I’m looking to buy something like a camera, a home entertainment device, or a book. I don’t even read the short reviews; I only look at the ones where someone has taken the time to write a couple hundred words.

While some of these longer reviews may be fakes, the companies that churn out fake reviews are generally in developing countries and are “written” by people with limited English language skills, so they just toss out short reviews, often which are posted in a number of variants by multiple fake accounts.

Finding the Real Reviews

Fake reviews flourish for certain types of products, as mentioned above. In general, book reviews are honest, but there have been notable cases of authors or Public Relations agencies trying to game the system. (One notable “number one” Amazon book reviewer who wrote 30,000 reviewer turned out to be a fraud.) Movie and CD reviews are also mostly honest; people don’t judge cultural items the same way as for tools, cameras, or toys.

Real reviews tend to be longer and well written, though not perfect. To verify the quality of a review, click on a reviewer’s name to see how many other reviews they’ve written; if they are all for similar products and all five-star reviews be suspicious. Fake reviewers also submit a lot of reviews in a short time, so look at the dates on their reviews as well.

One thing that Amazon has tried to do recently is display whether the review was for a “verified purchase;” in other words, proof that the person who wrote the review purchased the product from Amazon. There are legitimate cases where a non-verified purchase may be valid. The book industry uses a service called NetGalley, which provides pre-release ebooks to reviewers who commit to posting reviews on blogs, on social media, or on Amazon. They do this so there are reviews of books on release date which can help sales. Reviewers who use this service are expected to say that they got a free copy of the book through NetGalley.

Free products given to reviewers have long been a problem with Amazon and other sites. Prolific reviewers get offered lots of free products in exchange for a “fair and balanced” review, but Amazon is trying to stamp out that practice. Now companies are giving deep discounts as much as 99% off so the products still show up as “verified purchases.”

There are some websites that can help you find which reviews are real. They use a set of algorithms to determine the quality of reviews based on their length, the language they use, the number of reviews the reviewers have written, and more. Just yesterday, I was looking for an accessory for my camera. I need some step-up rings; these are used to put filters on lenses whose diameter is different. I checked a number of brands on Amazon and checked their reviews on FakeSpot, a site that has analyzed several million reviews. The one I selected has an A rating, meaning that over 90% of reviews look like they are honest.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

(Another site that only checks Amazon reviews is ReviewMeta, and The Review Index tries to break down reviews according to characteristics discussed in the reviews in addition to checking for fake reviews.)

FakeSpot doesn’t just analyze Amazon reviews. They also check reviews of games on the App Store; here’s what they think of the reviews for the current most popular free game for iOS:

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

FakeSpot also checks reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. You can search businesses, hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions, and find which are honest and which are fluff. At least a tourist attraction like Stonehenge has honest reviews.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

Bear in mind also that posting a lot of bad reviews can be a tactic used by competitors to attempt to downgrade products. It is increasingly hard to trust reviews, but the best way is to look for serious reviews is to find those that that say a lot and check who wrote them. Some reviewers have a long history of writing reviews and are more trustworthy.

There are plenty of people trying to trick you on the internet and fake customer reviews is one way they can take advantage of you. With these tools and a better understanding of the review process, you can help ensure that your purchases are better informed.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

But do you know that the large majority of Review websites do not review anything. They are nothing more than Affiliate Websites. They are basically advertisement websites that contain links to companies that pay out for new customers. Read further to learn how to identify phony review sites and how to carry out your own comparisons when buying any product

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Spotting a Fake Review Site

Are you finding similar “Best Reviews” websites? Are they all reviewing the same products or companies?

When reading the reviews do you notice similar word groupings and writing styles?

This often means the reviewers are either copying information or that the reviews were all written by the same person. Yes we have seen as many as 12 different websites all written by the same person

Check if the outgoing links on the “Reviewed Products” include an affiliate tracking code. If so anything appearing on the site is based not in truth, but in what is most likely to generate sales

If everything on the website is nothing but advertising disguised as impartial reviews, then they have no expectation of having visitors return, and consequently no risk of anyone questioning the integrity of the reviews

Why Review Sites?

Most often we use Google when searching to find the products or services we are looking for

For example, if you want to buy a new android phone, you might try a search such as
“The Best Android Phone”

You would think that Google Search results will display unbiased website ratings and reviews of the best phones currently trending in the market

This is not the case

The first 10 results we use an a example are sites that are fake review sites trying to deceive you into buying through their reviews sites. They only list those companies or products that pay a commission

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.

In “Monitoring your Online Reputation in 2013,” contributor Micah Buchdahl described the need to closely monitor what others say about your company online. Firms like Reputation.com have turned digital perception into a successful business, helping individuals and businesses manage how they are perceived online.

It’s an intimidating thing to manage, if in fact there is anything one can do about people’s perceptions posted to news sites and blogs. Businesses can only hope to negate incorrect information online and work to create positive content that counters the negative. However, your reputation is important, so this is a critical process.

For service-oriented businesses, online reviews often mean the difference between boom and bust. Whether it be Google Places for Business, Yelp, Yahoo! Local, or Citysearch, online review websites have become vital outlets for consumers who want to offer their opinions about your business, good or bad. And much like with word-of-mouth, it only takes a few bad reviews to significantly harm your business.

So, what can you do to take control of the situation?

Don’t post fake reviews. That’s for sure. However, you do want to monitor other reviews, actively, and that can eat up a lot of time. So, I’ve put together a synopsis of the most popular tools and services for managing online reviews.

Google Alerts

The simplest option is free and powerful. Set up a Google Alert. Here’s how:

  • Go to Google.com/alerts.
  • Add your business name to the Search Query field.
  • Parse for result type, frequency and quantity.
  • Enter your email address.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

Google Alerts notify you when your business is mentioned online.

An email will be sent to you with content containing the business name you entered. It’s like having a digital clipping service in your email box.

TweetDeck and HootSuite

Both of these tools allow people to manage social media accounts with relative ease. However, they are also quite useful for monitoring social media content, which puts you in a position to provide timely customer service online. Add your business name to the feed to see anything that comes up on your Facebook page or on Twitter in general.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

TweetDeck notifies you and lets you respond to tweets about your business.

When you see that somebody is saying something about your business, using these tools puts you in a unique position to respond quickly and progressively.

Online Review Monitoring Services

If time is more valuable than money to you, spending some cash on online review-monitoring services might be the way to go. Here are some of the biggest players in the space.

Reputation.com. While this company’s service is broader than just online reviews, Reputation.com does provide a review-monitoring service. A centralized dashboard allows business owners to monitor changes in public perception, even giving business owners a way to figure out the source of the problem.

ReviewPush. ReviewPush states that it monitors reviews for more than 4,000 businesses. Among its offerings includes multi-site monitoring, which means it keeps an eye open for new reviews on Yelp, Google, Foursquare, Yahoo!, YellowPages, and more. They send you an email when new reviews are posted. Within that email, their system allows you functionality to respond to those reviews.

Review Trackers. Not only does Review Trackers allow for multi-site monitoring in one spot, it specializes in industry-specific review sites like TripAdvisor and OpenTable. This service also gives business owners the capability to sort results by location and date and also offers the ability to respond to reviews.

AreWeOnline.com. This service provides custom checks on Google Places and Yelp for alerts that fall below the business owner’s threshold, checking every five minutes.

Sendible. This business’s focus is social media management, but Sendible also monitors reviews on sites like Yelp and Citysearch.

Trackur. Many business owners use Trackur to monitor news sites, social media, and even YouTube. However, Trackur also offers review monitoring, albeit a bit differently than other services do. Trackur takes RSS feeds from websites like Citysearch and Urbanspoon and adds them to your service. Even if there isn’t a page on these review sites for your business, Trackur can set up a review monitor for your city or state to help you keep track of customer opinions.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

Trackur offers review monitoring through RSS feeds.

Reputation Ranger. Like most other review-monitoring services, Reputation Ranger helps business owners track online reviews with an eye for changes in sentiment. However, this service specializes in three specific niches: Restaurants and bars, plumbers and home contractors, and automotive sales and service.

Chatmeter. In addition to helping business owners track online reviews, Chatmeter Review Management allows businesses to set up review comparisons so you can see how your reviews stack up against the competition’s reviews.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

One recent survey found that nearly eight in 10 consumers say they think they’ve read a fake review in the past year. And 84% of consumers say they can’t always spot a fake review.

Here are 10 ways to spot fake reviews online:

Look for overuse of “I” and “me” and a lot of verbs.According to research from Cornell University, online reviews that frequently use “I” and “me” are more likely to be fake than those that don’t — possibly because when people are lying they try to make themselves sound credible by using personal pronouns. Additionally, “deceivers use more verbs and truth-tellers use more nouns,” the research found.

Beware of scene-setting. The Cornell study also found that setting the scene could be a warning sign. “Truthful hotel reviews, for example, are more likely to use concrete words relating to the hotel, like ‘bathroom,’ ‘check-in’ or ‘price.’ Deceivers write more about things that set the scene, like ‘vacation,’ ‘business trip’ or ‘my husband,’” the research revealed.

Watch out for generic names and/or photo-less profiles. One of the big ways that fake online reviews get generated is from “a faceless offshore company pushing bulk reviews on a site under different accounts,” says Jean Paldan, founder of UK-based marketing firm Rare Form New Media. To spot those, “look for names like John or Jane Smith, or obviously fake names or just numbers and letters. They will 99% of the time not have a profile picture,” Paldan says.

Examine the timing of reviews. “See if there is a spike in the total number of reviews during a very short time frame. This can indicate a targeted campaign to add new artificial reviews,” says Derek Hales, the editor-in-chief of home products review site ModernCastle. There are exceptions though: “Be aware that product launches, Black Friday, Christmas, and other major buy days can yield more reviews during certain periods.”

Look for phrase repetition. “Look through several reviews and see if any words or phrases are repeated in different reviews. Reviews that use the same phrase(s) may have been instructed to do so by the party faking the reviews, says Hales.

Check the spelling and grammar, says Michael Lai, a founder of review site SiteJabber. Many fake reviews are outsourced to content farms, he says, which may mean they “are either written in poor English or not in a way a real consumer would express their opinion.”

Dig deeper into the reviewer profile. Another common type of fake review is from a “professional reviewer” — someone who was given the product for free and given extra money, to give a five star review, Paldan says. These are “harder to spot” but you often can if you put in some legwork, she says: “Click on the reviewer profile, and look at all of their reviews. If they have a big trend of giving all five star reviews without any negativity … odds are that they were bought and paid for.” Another hint: If they’ve done a lot of five-star reviews for products owned by the same company.

Look at the middle-of-the-road reviews. “It’s often helpful to sort reviews that fall in the middle of the pack (e.g 3/5 stars). These reviews are often the most honest and insightful about both the positive and negative aspects of the venue and can be used to cross-reference other reviews to look for trends in both positive and negative feedback,” says Marc Nashaat, an SEO and digital PR consultant.

Look for verified purchases. “Many review platforms will verify if the purchase happened on that site or not. If it did not, it will be an ‘unverified purchase,’ which is more likely to be to be faked review,” says Hales.

When in doubt, reach out. “Reach out directly to the reviewer with questions about their review. Most fake reviewers will not respond, but real reviewers often look forward to opportunities to be more helpful,” says Lai.

Reviews have become such a huge influence in buying decisions that “gaming the system” is something we should all be aware of.

Taking reviews or review rating systems at face value is what most consumers do because it’s a quick way to make a decision, but that’s what those that create fake reviews are counting on.

There are companies in countries outside the U.S. selling large numbers of fake reviews, so it’s always a good idea to watch for grammar and language errors, or suspicious usernames.

Developing a process to dig into the reviews can help you avoid making purchases of products that might not fit your needs.

Review basics

A single review of any product isn’t nearly as valuable as a large number of reviews, so always start by looking at the quantity. Surveys suggest that the average number of reviews consumers are looking for is 34 in order to trust the overall rating.

If a product has a large number of reviews and all of them are 5 stars, it would be wise to do some further digging.

Very rarely does a product or a company execute everything perfectly, so when you don’t see a single review complaining about shipping, missing parts, difficult instructions or that it didn’t live up to expectations, be wary.

Reviewing the reviewer

Most platforms make it easy to see other reviews posted by a reviewer by clicking on their name/profile.

When you see similar wording on reviews for a wide variety of products, or constant grammar or language errors, it’s a clear red flag for that reviewer.

Lots of over-the-top short reviews with 5 stars should cause some concern, as most 5-star reviewers want to tell you their story.

The most valuable reviews tend to detail minor issues or challenges as more of the overall experience instead of just how great the product is.

Fake bad reviews

You should expect to see some bad comments on just about anything you’re going to buy, but it’s important to really dig into them. The most important thing you’ll learn is how the merchant responds to negative feedback.

It’s also important to review other feedback from that same reviewer to make sure you aren’t seeing a post from a chronic complainer.

Unfortunately, some people use bad reviews to extract additional benefits from the merchant when it’s unwarranted and, in some cases, never actually did business with them at all.

Review tools

There are a handful of free tools available for popular sites that can scan through large numbers of reviews and provide some insight.

Fakespot can analyze reviews for Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Best Buy, Sephora, Steam, Yelp and TripAdvisor, with plans to add others in the future.

If you buy a lot of tech gadgets, The Review Index can analyze Stream and Amazon URLs.

ReviewMeta only analyses Amazon reviews with very easy to understand reports.

Reporting fake reviews

Most sites offer the ability to tag reviews when you feel that something’s fishy, so look for a link below the review to report it.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

Adrian R. Camilleri receives funding from the Consumer Policy Research Centre.

Partners

University of Technology Sydney provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

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Ever relied on an online review to make a purchasing decision? How do you know it was actually genuine?

Consumer reviews can be hugely influential, so it’s hardly surprising there’s a thriving trade in fake ones. Estimates of their prevalence vary – from 16% of all reviews on Yelp, to 33% of all TripAdvisor reviews, to more than half in certain categories on Amazon.

So how good are you at spotting fake consumer reviews?

I surveyed 1,400 Australians about their trust in online reviews and their confidence in telling genuine from fake. The results suggest many of us may be fooling ourselves about not being fooled by others.

In strangers we trust

Online consumer reviews were the equal-second most important source for information about products and services, after store browsing. Most of us rate consumer reviews – the views of perfect strangers – just as highly as the opinion of friends and family.

Trust is central to the importance of reviews in our decision-making. The following chart shows the trust results broken down by age: in general, people most trust product information from government sources and experts, followed by consumer reviews.

The chart below displays trust ratings according to website, with the most trusted sources for reviews being TripAdvisor.com.au, Google Reviews and ProductReview.com.au.

Those aged 23-38 tended to trust sites the most, and those above 55 tended to trust sites the least.

While 73% of participants said they trusted online reviews at least a moderate amount, 65% also said it was likely they had read a fake review in the past year.

The paradox of these percentages suggests confidence in spotting fake reviews. Indeed, 48% of respondents believed they were at least moderately good at spotting fake reviews. Confidence tended to correlate with age: those who were younger tended to rate themselves as better at detecting fake reviews.

In my opinion, respondents’ confidence is a classic example of overconfidence. It’s a well-documented paradox of human self-perception, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. The worse you are at something, the less likely you have the competence to know how bad you are.

The fact is most humans are not particularly good at distinguishing between truth and lies.

A 2006 study involving almost 25,000 participants found that lie-truth judgments averaged just 54% accuracy – barely better than flipping a coin. In a study looking more specifically at online reviews (but with only a small number of judges), Cornell University researchers found an accuracy rate of about 57%. A similiar study based at the University of Copenhagen found an accuracy rate of about 65%, with information about reviewers improving scores slightly.

What we look for

So what tends to sway people’s judgement about whether a review is fake or not? My research suggests the most important attribute people look out for is “extremity” – going over the top in one-sided praise or criticism.

This sentiment is a relatively sound rule of thumb, supported by analysis. Studies suggest fake reviews also tend to:

  • focus on describing product attributes and features
  • have much fewer subjective and anecdotal details
  • be shorter than others
  • be relatively more difficult to read (probably due to fake reviewers being hired from foreign countries).

Fake reviews might also be identified by characteristics of the reviewer. Their profiles tend to be new and unverified accounts with few details and little or no history of other reviews. They will have gained very few “helpful” votes from others.

How to spot fake reviews on amazon yelp and other sites

Test yourself

With all this in mind, it’s now’s time to see how good you are at spotting fake reviews with this quiz.

Chances are you didn’t do as well as you thought you would. That’s because clever fraudsters work to hide all the attributes of fake reviews outlined above.

So two final pieces of advice.

Use some technology to help. Two websites I recommend are Fakespot.com and ReviewMeta.com. In my experience, both do a good job weeding out suspicious reviews (tip: be sure to delete domain suffixes such as “.au” from the URLs you check).

Also check out multiple review sites to get second, third and fourth opinions. It is less likely a fraudster will be paying for fake reviews on every platform.

One of my three jobs is writing the fake reviews that Yelp insists don't exist. Ask me whatever you want.

How often would you say you drink orphan blood with your boss to celebrate your evil?

If I ever met my boss in real life, I'm sure it would be every time our quarterly numbers come in.

How did you come into this kind of work? How does one do it?

I'm a writer for my main job and I browse the Craigslist writing gigs section for ghostwriting and odd jobs I can do remotely since I'm a fast writer and looking for some extra cash. An agency posted an ad and I was applying for everything at the time. They emailed me back after reading some of my publications and we set up a contract. The pay is shit, but it's kind of fun and it's just a side job so I can quit anytime I want with no consequences.

I get sent projects to complete in 24 hours so I either do it at work or when I get home. Usually at work if I'm being honest.

The money is shit, you get paid by word count, but for the amount of time I spend, it's not terrible. I spend no more than an hour doing one review, but usually closer to a half hour.

Who are your customers?

Mostly smaller places that are in the three star range because they either have a lot of five star reviews and a lot of one star reviews and want a balance, or they're actually just mediocre and other similar places around them have better reviews. Chains don't really care about Yelp, but local spots do, especially if they're newer.

Did you ever use the product and liked it but had to give a bad review? Or vice versa?

I've never had to give a bad review before and since I work through an agency that presents as professional; we don't do 'take down the competition campaigns.' We only elevate out clients. Most of the items I've never used, and don't really care about.

How do you make your reviews sound more realistic?

When I'm reviewing anything, I read previous reviews to get a feel of what people like and don't like about the place or thing. Say it's a restaurant and people hate the fried food because it's overdone or something, but they generally really like the atmosphere. I'll say that the place looked great, (something specific from pictures I've googled or sent, maybe a brief anecdote of how me and my companions had specific things to say, or memories). I'll make a point to say that the food was crispy (glance over the issue and not go into more detail to not sound obvious) then comment on another aspect of the food I really liked, like sides, sauce or drinks.

Sometimes I just pretend I'm reviewing a restaurant I actually like in real life that's similar. For product reviews, I just imagine what I would use it for in real life. If it's not something I would use or need, I just pretend that I'm someone I know in real life who would use it.

About how much do you get paid for a 300 word yelp review?

Now $15, I stared at $10

I recently went to a place that served clam strips the size of chicken cutlets with the same consistency as the bottom of my shoe. Could you write a brief paragraph explaining how great that experience was.?

I stopped by [insert name here] on a whim because my sister and I were in the area shopping and craving seafood! The restaurant was nice and clean, the staff was friendly but young. Cheap wine too!

I got the baked haddock because I'm on a diet a the waitress recommended it along with baked scallops. It was great, the breading was light, but still tasty and there wasn't too much butter.

My sister got fried clam strips and they were a little big, but the waitress said that the clams were fresh and were running on the big side today. She said they were different but good and the batter was nice and crispy.We both got fries and coleslaw for sides and they were good but the servings of coleslaw were a little small.

The service was great and the view was even better because we were seated on the deck. There were some kids feeding the seagulls even though the signs said not to which was annoying, but the staff politely asked them to stop.

Over all it was a great experience and I will definitely be back if I'm in the area again.

This is my 'mid 40's housewife who is on a diet and needs everyone to know it and thinks that everyone cares about her opinion. I took some liberties with the details.