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Could you spot a fake review?

What if those glowing customer reviews we see aren’t honest or impartial, or don’t reflect the person’s true experience? This is the world of fake reviews.

In 2018, we went undercover to find out whether shoppers are right to be putting their trust in customer reviews on sites such as Amazon. We found:

⚠ A network of Facebook groups set up to reimburse shoppers for Amazon purchases in exchange for positive reviews. Just seven of these groups had more than 87,000 members

⚠ Sellers demanding a high or five-star rating in return for a refund on their purchase

⚠ Refusal to reimburse costs when ‘honest’ reviews were posted

We set up a dedicated account on Amazon, Facebook and PayPal to join Facebook groups such as Amazon Deals Group and Amazon UK Reviewers. You can find out more about our investigation and findings by reading the facts about fake reviews.

So what’s the problem?

Fake reviews can artificially inflate ratings, as well as how high up the product appears in searches, and can mislead customers in to buying poor-quality devices.

In our 2018 survey 97% of members of the public told us they use customer reviews when researching a product, and 31% of people told us they had bought a product because of excellent customer scores and had been disappointed.

How to spot a fake review

If you’re concerned about fake reviews, consider the steps below to avoid falling for them, and potentially making a purchase you’ll regret:

ℹ Don’t get star-struck – go beyond the top ratings and read the written reviews

ℹ Do the reviews sound natural? Are they very long or very short? Are there repetitive phrases within or between reviews?

ℹ Check the dates – if a lot of reviews are clustered together in a short time period, it might indicate a push for positive reviews via Facebook groups

ℹ Overly positive reviewers – click on the reviewer’s username to see what else they’ve reviewed, and how they’ve rated it

ℹ Polarising reviews – if the reviews are mostly five stars or one star then it’s a warning sign – it’s unlikely that people would consistently have such different experiences with a product

Do you feel confident spotting fake reviews? What tips and tricks do you use, and what sorts of things might make you feel suspicious?

Have you ever bought a product as a result of a customer review, only to run into serious problems?

We’re also keen to know if you’ve been asked to leave a positive review when you’ve purchased a product – especially if you’ve been offered an incentive for doing so.

Let us know in the comments below.

Comments
Member

A case in point is the drill bit product sold by a shopping channel. Its television coverage shows amazing longevity and durability for these. The first four or six pages of reviews echo these claims with five star comments, then suddenly the tone changes and the product is comprehensively derided as useless. The life time guarantee brings with it a postage cost to return the drill that makes it uneconomic to do so and consumer after consumer reports breakages and blunt tips in contrast to those shown on television. Who to believe? Would one casually glance at a couple of pages and then assume all was well? The fact that no independent body has tested these means there is no corroboration of these claims. This shows how important the work of Which? is and what happens when it is not comprehensive. As a side note, I avoided these drills, bought an expensive set elsewhere and broke three within a matter of minutes.

The check list provided above is a good one and should also be used by those charged with dealing with fake reviews. It would seem logical that fake reviews are condoned by the manufacturers and they should be punished for their duplicity. Those that allow their publication on shopping sites should also be censured for lack of control. If the public can spot these, then so can they. A fake review should be an offence for misleading the public. It also follows that those who use and condone these have something to hide, either because what they are selling is poor quality or does not do what it is supposed to.

Member

A couple of years ago, we wanted a cheap vacuum for dirty jobs. Being in a bit of hurry, Screwfix appeared to have just the job, pages and pages of glowing reviews, so bought it.
(That vacuum is no longer on the site)

The hose wouldn’t stay in the body, the pipes were flimsy, it didn’t have much suck and Screwfix didn’t argue when we took it back for a refund. Sort the reviews into low to high rating and the low reviews matched our experience of the vacuum. The other several hundred had to be fake.

I now don’t trust reviews on Screwfix, they are not doing themselves any favours by allowing fake ones because we now look at Tool Station first.

Member
DelPerrin says:
13 March 2019

Difficult to trust reviews anywhere, some are bad because people don’t use the subject item correctly. Fair play to Screwfix for refunding your money.

Member

I’ve generally found the Screwfix reviews useful, certainly the more technical ones, and I’m generally only looking for smaller items. More recently I’ve found reviews that did not relate to the product. In one case a couple of the reviews referred to a different number of speed settings to the product description. I hope that it was just customers writing reviews for the wrong product.

Member

I do think Screwfix have abnormally high numbers of positive reviews for their own-brand products. Maybe reviews on other brands are more reliable.

Member

I must pay more attention, but as I have said elsewhere I look for information rather than ratings. In a supermarket I tend to ignore price and look instead at unit price.

It would be interesting to identify companies that remove negative reviews. I knew one person who had reviews mentioning safety concerns removed from the Amazon website. I might try posting something negative about a product bought from Screwfix, but only if I make a purchase that deserves this comment.

Member

Also misleading and just as bad as fake reviews, is the removal of negative reviews giving the impression of an excellent product.

I normally take my time buying more expensive items and have often seen negatives comments removed.

A search for reviews of the product on different websites should give a truer picture of it.

Member

All we ask for is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Why can’t society rely on this anymore? Why can we no longer trust bodies with the word “trust” in their name?

Member

I’m not sure we ever could, John. Ever since Ug tried to convince Wuk that his pebbles had miraculous healing power, the Get-rich-quick and con merchants have thrived.

Member

Yes, but they were low-life in the gutters of commerce, Ian. You did business with them at your peril.

In many cases now we are referring to major corporations, household names, big brands. The big difference from conventional trading practices is that they are hiding within the filaments of the web and have made themselves virtually untouchable.

Member

When I read reviews I look for information about the product, rather than the reviewer’s opinion. Often reviews contain useful information that is not provided by the manufacturer.

Member
Sandra says:
14 March 2019

I recently bought an item from ebay on behalf of a company selling spray mops. It broke within a month. It was cheap so I put it down to a bad experience and decided I would not buy this item again. When I got a request for a review I gave an honest appraisal about how flimsy it was as I would have liked to have had this information if I was looking to buy. The reply I got was a request asking me to remove my review, give the seller 5 stars and then they would refund me the cost of the item. I have not done this as this is misleading. Not worth posting a false review to just get my money back.

Member

There is far too much pressure on sellers to accumulate a high number of good reviews.

You could be entitled under the Consumer Rights Act to a refund if the product was not fit for purpose.

To make access to your consumer rights conditional on writing a favourable review could be an offence.

If you felt so inclined you might like to raise it with your local trading standards service [although you might have to go through Citizens Advice in the first instance in order to make contact].

Member

Sorry to hear about your experience Sandra, and good for you not giving in to the fake reviews pressure! I’d be interested in finding out who the seller was, and a bit more about it. If you have any more details that you’d be willing to share but don’t want to post on here then please email fakereviews@which.co.uk

Member

If an eBay trader asks me to give a good review I make a point of mentioning this in the review. If they wish to shoot themselves in the foot they are welcome. 🙂

Member
Tom says:
16 March 2019

With regard to Amazon. I don’t believe anyone should be able to leave a review unless they are a verified purchaser. Also a one word comment for a negative review shouldn’t be allowed. I always check the negative reviews first and the number of reviewers who give no indication except write “Rubbish” or “Don’t Bother” These type of reviews tell us nothing.