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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.

BSmallwood says:
15 May 2019

My approach is simple: I read manufacturer’s descriptions, technical specifications, AND NOTHING ELSE!

PrincesStamp says:
15 May 2019

I posted a real review onto a f/b page of a national glazing company and within minutes got an angry message from f/b saying that they were suspending my account. This company had canabis smoking employees, who cut every corner that they could and built an unsafe and dangerous structure. We lost £30K to these cowboys yet all their review and endorsements say that they are the best thing since sliced bread. Legislation allows big business to bully individual consumers because of the strategic wording of the laws.

Lynne Edwards says:
15 May 2019

I think you should also draw attention to the numerous sites that purport to recommend trades people, like a ‘check a builder’ type service. For the most part these companies do not provide any real peace of mind regarding quality of the work because such web sites work for and are paid by the building firm, handyman or jobbing trade person. They are not there to look after the ‘punters’ property or guarantee to keep the individual safe (it remains risky to let any stranger into your home!)

Garden Girl says:
17 May 2019

Just like Which Trusted Traders then!! They wish to use the good reputation of Which for 60 years of consumer advice, of “independently testing, reviewing, investigating and questioning” products and services, for Which Trusted Traders to abuse, (just like when it was called Which Local) to endorse all companies without seeing Traders work.

They clearly hide behind the Which logo and ‘Best Buy’ ethics. They do very little to safe guard the consumer. The only people they are happy to protect are the traders that line their pockets. This includes lying and manipulating the situation as they see fit. As for emails and general contact, we have been ignored from all angles, and even taking our compliant to the top has resulted to no reply. Its fair to say that anything with a Which name on it, will be getting a swerve from us in the future.

H M Whyatt says:
15 May 2019

Can not recall what I purchased as it was a few months ago now and to be honest don’t even think it was a particular expensive item, I purchased via eBay and it wasn’t until after my order had gone through I realised it was coming by extremely slow snail mail, now in have not got an issue with items taking a few weeks to arrive when I can see from the cost etc., that this is likely to be the case and in many cases it does give you an idea but this particular seller did not make this obvious, long story short I received my item 4-6 weeks later and was generally happy with it but because I did not give them the highest rating for everything I was getting emails almost daily asking me to change my feedback, trying to use emotional blackmail saying that they were desperate to keep their job and the boss would be very angry with them for the comments etc., I had made. To be honest I didn’t believe a word but played along in my sympathy but that I was not going to change my feedback, after 3-4 weeks of this almost daily begging I then got very annoyed and said if they didn’t stop I would make the feedback 1 star for everything and report them, thankfully I never heard from them again but how many people have had this type of pressure?
Guess if I’d needed a refund I would not have got one, thankfully this time it was not required.

Shirley C says:
15 May 2019

I have done reviews but can only think of 1 occasion where I have given 5*. Usually there is a negative. I try to read several reviews , usually for holiday hotels, and balance out the comments myself. It is only later that I look at *rating. So far it has worked well

Clifford Perkins says:
15 May 2019

When I have bought items on amazon sometimes I have been told that if I have an issue with the item , please do not post a review on Amazon, just inform them ( the supplier) first for a replacement which would be forthcoming quickly. Or just a message asking for a good review as a bad one will have a big effect on their business.
This has mainly been for small companies supplying a small range of items or from abroad through Amazon Market Place

I have been asked once or twice to provide a good review for discounted items on my next order. I have never followed this up and will always give an honest review regardless of any incentives as I know that I sometimes rely on the honesty of reviewers too

15 May 2019

I’m actually quite cross after switching phone/internet provider, then realising that the positive reviews were almost certainly all fake

(Edited by moderators: We have edited your comment as it was all written in capital letters. Please read our commenting guidelines for more information).

Sue Howard says:
15 May 2019

I used to post reviews and comments on a large online marketplace about items I’d purchased. Out of the blue I was told I had breached the rules. When I asked for some clarification, they got heavy! My impression was because I posted some positive feedback it was questioned by other sellers. I tend to avoid requests for reviews as I have doubts about a marketplace itself manipulating responses. On trusting reviews I’ve bought items and been pleased with them yet others have posted poor reviews, replies are subjective.

Beryl A. says:
15 May 2019

I feel that the sellers are inclined to use reviews from customers, which they are able to make use of, free of charge, to promote their products. Many of us are honest, up-front purchasers, who might truly be well-satisfied with a purchase, and are prepared to spend OUR precious time, writing a review noting our satisfaction with that item. The fact that the companies are BUYING these reviews from customers who are goaded into commenting, either because they like to see their names “IN PRINT”, or because the companies are prepared to pay for them, one way or another, is really lousy.

Val says:
16 May 2019

I rarely check reviews, if I do it’s more likely to be the company or supplier that I check to see if they’re legit and have refunded if necessary or replaced defective items. I find more people leave product reviews than company ones.
I don’t post reviews very often but am more likely to praise a good product,service etc than to complain about a bad one.
I have tried to post book reviews on A very large site and had my reviews disallowed because I haven’t spent sufficient money on their site, I find this a pointless practice especially as they were actually positive and think it’s unethical,needless to say I’ve avoided buying anything on there ever since. I’ve never been offered a free product or cash to review positively but have seen some ‘ reward’ type ads for books, ie send a screenshot of your positive review and receive a free book in return, always classed as ‘a Thankyou’.

What about selective reviews published on retailer websites. I recently left a “bad” review as the item arrived faulty – when I contacted the retailer after it hadn’t been published two weeks later I was told the reviews were “moderated”. This I take to mean that anything “bad” or one star ( out of five) was removed… Is this legal or misrepresentation …. should we ignore reviews on retailers own websites?

Mr.R.D.Jackson. says:
16 May 2019

Personally, i have my own issue with the whole of the, ‘Check your recent purchases’ and ‘leave your review now’, pressure messages, which get my back up. For example : my wife and I, are on our 5th ! washing machine in 33 years! We’ve probably had at least a dozen steam irons from the £9.99 ones, to the £25 ones, the £49 ones, and now on our 3rd £150 steam generator one. Why am I/we all, being pressurised to give an ‘instant’ review, when I’ve just taken delivery and or, forced to go online/fill a registration card out, with the ‘bribe’ of getting an extra years’ guarantee; in order that it immediately improves their review score? Again…I bought a new ‘jockey wheel’ for my caravan…they want a review straight away! Strewth ! give me time to use it first ! How ridiculous and impractical is this attitude.
I want to give my review, when I’ve used the product for a year or more ! yes ? …Especially our washing machines…If it lasts the “BRAND LEADING 5 YEAR GUARANTEE”, then i’ll be impressed; THEN i’ll give it my review!! (Just one more for effect : I buy a £20 rechargeable battery charger; 12 months guarantee; WHY am I/all of us, supposed to give a review on something that’s only just arrived ?! I suggest it might end up being legislated to stop this nonsense.

I suspect we’re inexorably moving towards a far more legislative era with regard to social media in general. The problem with that is that legislation is a two edged sword; the law of unintended consequences kicks in quite swiftly.

A perennial problem is knowing who to believe, whether it is news, about products, about people. Whether the radio, tv, newspaper and now that everyone can publish stuff widely on-line we can all (if we choose) make our views known.

We need to hone our discriminatory skills and, like getting builders in, do your own investigation and get three quotes.

Private Eye did a round up of (news)papers’ predictions on the recent royal birth – it’s a girl, it’s twins, it’s a boy and a girl, it’s two girls, it’s twin boys………

Julie Taylor says:
16 May 2019

If I’m buying tech stuff I’d never just go by online reviews. I always read up about the product from various reliable sources and ask my family experts for their input before buying. Also wherever possible I buy from reputable companies rather than generic online marketplaces like ebay and amazon. For online reviews generally, I’d more likely believe TrustPilot reviews than generic marketplace ones.

Rosemary LBE says:
16 May 2019

I’m afraid no company is immune. I’ve seen identical reviews (word for word up to 5/6 lines long) for the same traders in Which? Local!

Patricia says:
19 May 2019

As a rule I never read the reviews. When i first saw them and read a few I am afraid I took them with a pinch of salt, this was years ago. There is one company in particular from whom I bought a couple of items which didnt work so I have never bought anything since, even though they might have improved.