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Why we’ve had enough of fake reviews

Spotted a review that doesn’t look quite right? Does that product’s five-star rating just not stack up? Sign our petition to put a stop to fake reviews.

Earlier this year, we found sellers on online marketplaces and platforms confusing people by posting fake reviews to distort opinion about products and spread misinformation.

Despite telling marketplaces and platforms that there was a problem, it shows no signs of slowing down.

Well, we’ve had enough. Today, we’ve set up a petition calling for action on fake reviews.

We’ve found through several investigations that sellers on online marketplaces such as Amazon are able cheat the system by overloading product listings with fake reviews.

This is the latest in a series of investigations that we have ongoing to uncover the scale of the problem.

The impact on spending

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimated that in 2015, around £23 billion of spending was the result of people reading reviews.

With the explosive growth of e-commerce in the last 4 years, it’s now estimated that figure is around £38 billion.

From our analysis and research, of those who believe they received a product of an inferior quality than they were expecting, the spend impacted by fake reviews is around £1.5 billion.

That is a huge amount of consumer spending that is hanging on information that might not be true, genuine or is at the very least outright distorted to present a false impression.

Taking action

Thankfully, the regulator has recognised that there is a problem, too. The CMA recently launched a programme of work aimed at tackling fake and misleading reviews.

As a first step, they told Facebook and eBay to cut them off at the source and remove groups and listings that were encouraging the sale and trade of fake reviews.

Facebook told us it had removed the groups we reported to it, while Amazon said that it invests significant resources to protect the integrity of its reviews.

We think more needs to be done. Online platforms know that this is a problem, but they’re not taking enough proactive steps to ensure that consumers are accessing relevant, correct information about the products they are viewing on their platforms.

We’ve been working undercover for the last year, finding out about what’s happening and how sellers are managing to post these reviews.

A lot of people don’t know that fake reviews exist – these are the people who are most at risk

We want you to join us and support the first steps of our work to stamp out fake reviews.

Have you ever been asked to write a fake review? How many do you think you’ve spotted? Let us know, and support our campaign.

Comments

“A lot of people don’t know that fake reviews exist – these are the people who are most at risk”.

Seriously? A lot of people?

Let’s reword that slightly: “A lot of people don’t know that some people tell lies.”

You suggest some solutions. I don’t use ebay, but Facebook has a well deserved reputation of acting too slowly, of monetising its users, of being economical with the truth, when not lying outright, so why should anyone imagine that Facebook will work against its interests unless compelled to by law?

Facebook is at the root of more issues that affect every one of us than just about anyone, yet there appears to be a marked reluctance to tackle the behemoth in the room directly. That, I believe, is what has to change and what has to be the priority.

I simply cannot understand the methodology of Amazon regarding reviews. It should be very straightforward: allow only verified buyers to review the item! Yes it is not fool proof but it makes it a lot harder to skew the results.

They already do that and have done for some time. It simply allows the companies paying for reviews to exert even more pressure on the reviewer.

I mostly read the bad reviews to find out about any problems. Of course, those can be fake too, written by competitors, although far less commonly.

Julie says:
5 July 2019

It’s unfair to the public to put fake revues out, I have always trusted Amazon for their honestly now I’m having Second thoughts,

I think Amazon is honest. Those who use it, however, are not always so honest.

I absolutely do not agree. I purchased 2 electronic items from the same Amazon seller, they were both amazing for a few days but broke down quickly so were not fit for purpose. The feedbacks were clearly engineered, but I called Amazon to complain and they arranged refunds for both items. Amazon should not allow fake sellers or reviews, but clearly do so to enhance their profits. I no longer buy from them as a result of my experiences.

It seems that Amazon treated you fairly with full refunds, so in what way were they dishonest? I agree that they should not allow fake sellers or reviews but at what point should they intervene and take them out of the Marketplace? It is notoriously difficult to supervise an on-line market place but the important thing is that they generally don’t quibble over faulty products and provide a free return and full refund facility.

Having said that, I am not a lover of Amazon and wish they would take action on prohibited goods being sold by their traders when it has been pointed out to them by purchasers or organisations such as Which? They are slippery if not actually dishonest.

B Cranfield says:
5 July 2019

Like others, I always read the downside reviews to get a better feel for
a product. No critical reports – beware!

I support action being taken against fake reviews but have never found it difficult to decide which reviews are likely to be genuine. I look for reviews that offer critical evaluation of both good and bad features and provide information that the manufacturer has not provided in their product description.

I try to avoid buying from Amazon but find that reviews on their site can be very useful if used with care.

I assume that everyone is wary about what they read in adverts, so it’s worth being equally wary about what is written in reviews.

Once again Which? targets the end result instead of tackling the root of the problem.

The first step needs to be taken by the government to make ALL internet traders accountable, not just Amazon, eBay and Facebook. They might provide platforms for dodgy traders but they are not the only sites at fault.

Many internet traders have multiple sites with multiple names, multiple addresses spreading their products around to keep under the VAT threshold. If they want you to buy from their preferred site, the buyer will be coerced with cheaper prices and free delivery. There are millions of these companies claiming exemption small company accounts making it impossible for authorities to keep track of and doing the government coffers out of probably £billions that could be spent on vital services in the UK.

And it is not just a Europe-wide problem, it is a world-wide problem. You will see a same small group of products sold on nearly every Amazon and eBay site with made-up brand names you have never heard of. On Amazon there are many examples of sellers trading in multiple countries keeping sales just below the VAT threshold, many with Chinese names. You often have no idea who you are trading with when user names have no connection to sellers. On eBay in some countries, you only see a trader’s user name so there is no way you can check up on them.

We need international trading standards to make sellers accountable. Why are virtual traders allowed to keep changing their made-up names, addresses and VAT numbers? Why are they allowed to use multiple addresses at the same time, none of which they actually trade from?

Start by cleaning up trading laws and applying heavy penalties to tax cheats then fake reviews will be easier to control.

One of our contributors provided an interesting example recently: https://conversation.which.co.uk/community/the-newsroom/#comment-1569238

very interesting, never knew any of that. I don’t trust reviews and only take any notice of the bad ones. Recently bought a Jayzee fold up bed from Argos for £49 which had lots of glowing reviews but it is the most uncomfortable thing I have ever slept on and almost useless, so all those reviews must have been fake.

If you want to know who you are dealing these are some of the sites you can use to check them out:

Search companies and people (addresses don’t work too well)
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/

Check VAT numbers
http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/vies/

Look up addresses
https://www.google.co.uk/maps
https://www.getmapping.com/ (limited but different timelines for free)

Search phone numbers
Put number in double quotes to move spaces around e.g. “01234 567 890”

Search product images
https://www.google.com/imghp?hl=en

Search products on foreign eBay/Amazon sites
Put part of the description in double quotes “like this” with e.g. amazon.de or ebay.ca

Google translator (Chinese names & addresses can have interesting results)
https://translate.google.co.uk/?hl=en&tab=TT

If anyone else has some useful sites please post them here. Putting a space after the http will stop them going into moderation.

(I forgot to add social media sites to the above list)

I have just found a couple of very interesting sites on VAT fraud that go a lot, lot further than my observations:

http://www.vatfraud.org/

From their website:
This campaign has been set-up by a group of UK eBay and Amazon Business sellers. We have felt the full impact of the VAT evading Chinese & non EU sellers who have taken over eBay & Amazon and are now pushing us out of business.

It is impossible to compete with the 1000’s of VAT evaders who are still trading and offering ‘too good to be true’ deals by illegally not charging 20% VAT on products located in the UK. The situation has now got so out of hand that even the VAT evaders are finding it impossible to compete because there are so many of them on Amazon & eBay.

In July 2014 we sent HMRC a comprehensive report detailing the £billion Online VAT Fraud and listed hundreds of VAT Evading sellers. We had hoped that HMRC would have taken action, but they chose to ignore it.

Also http://www.ravas.org.uk/

RAVAS (Retailers Against VAT Abuse Schemes) was formed in 2010 in order to campaign for the ending of the abuse of an import VAT Exemption called LVCR which was being used by retailers to avoid charging VAT on mail order goods.

The problem is fake reviews, so I had to laugh when I read in the Intro that Which/’s method of solving it is to get up a petition: “Sign our petition to put a stop to fake reviews.” I know what they mean but a petition on its own will stop nothing and in any case petitions often have as much credibility as fake reviews.

I would have thought the main thing Which? should be doing is holding the government directly to account by requesting a meeting with the Secretary of State for BEIS [preferably at Which? HQ] and demanding some action. Which? should also be speaking to various MP’s across the Parties to get this issue on the Parliamentary agenda, and also getting some airtime and media space to get public engagement. Names on a list can be useful evidence of support but until the number breaks through the hundred thousand marker it is not regarded as significant.

I wish the campaign every success but would like to see something more active and with a bit more bite.

I posted a true review of a national glazing company onto their f/b page and within minutes my account was suspended and post removed! Such national companies have the power and finances to do this and also to start legal action against individuals that post true reviews. I am unsure how independent and real sites like Feefo and Trustpilot really are and so I posted a review about this same company onto Trustpilot. This national glazing company have hounded me about my review wanting my details no doubt to intimidate me again.

Same story but with a national estate agent who kept sending emails after a half dozen request to be taken off the mailing list. After posting one star they started to treathen to take me to court and review site was happy to provide my details.

So what happened on Trustpilot then ? I think they are genuine. I saw Gordon Ramseys programme where one of his clients had really bad reviews of his resteraunt on there and he said they were fake reviews. Gordon brought the managing director and another manager from the company and also the people who wrote the reviews they came on and explained why the food was so bad and why they wrote the reviews. It was all genuine.

I have just received fake products ordered over the internet, so the Reviews of that company must have been faked also.
So dangerous as you don’t know the contents of the imitation products, especially when it’s skincare.

descipula vir viridis says:
11 July 2019

is this a fake petition – it reads like one Is it from Which. Or is it just a scam to get me to reveal personal details

It’s not a fake petition – it is absolutely from the people you trust at Which? 🙂

I posted a totally honest but critical review on the wewantgreatcare medical website, describing a hospital specialist who treated me extremely negligently and was not fit for purpose in my opinion..
It was displayed for some time with sixteen ‘likes’ then mysteriously removed. I believe that the website allows doctors to pay for removal of feedbacks that do not suit them. This is not acceptable for a resource which describes specialists who deal with serious medical issues, and they should be closed down without delay.

I ordered an external DVD drive for my computer from Amazon in the packaging was a slip that said give us a review, post a screen shot of your review and we’ll send you a £20 Amazon gift card. The item I ordered only cost £20.99!

Bought a expandable hose pipe off ebay advertised as heavy duty it lasted 3 months with very little wear, real rubish but what can you do after 3 months and already sent in good feedback.

How many of these feather duster reviews and Q&As are fake?
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07QBYRRN1/ref=ask_ql_qh_dp_hza

Funny nobody answered:
What exactly is a clothes fork and what is it used for Please

“Brand” names for the same feather duster: NiLook, NiLooki, Lomida, Kelisja, Woaster, Angtory.
🙄

Can a micro-fibre dusting cloth truly be described as a feather duster?

Honestly, Amazon puts utter rubbish in its product descriptions sometimes. This is no doubt a translation from the vernacular.

They are useful dusters.

Plenty of clothes forks here:
https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/stainless-steel-clothes-fork.html . Useful if you run a dry cleaners.

B&Q offer: frequently bought together
Elephant Maison Telescopic dusting brush (W)200mm £10.84
Cooke & Lewis Cleome Brushed Stainless steel Rectangular Recycling Pedal bin, 40L £46
Really?? Frequently??

Chinese reviewers don’t know the difference, spiders might though. 🕷🕸🕷

Who would have thought it was so hard to buy an extra-long-handled duster that doesn’t have a metal pole/handle.

Looks like it is not just electronics that are flooded with fake brand names and reviews.

I sometimes think products frequently bought together are ones that don’t sell well.

Microbeads have been banned and hopefully the same will happen with microfibres. It’s going to be a challenge to eliminate single-use plastics but we can manage without microfibre cleaning cloths and dusters.

“a challenge to eliminate single-use plastics “. Maybe total elimination, but substantial reduction is what I’m looking for. Is that so difficult? Not if we make a start and eat away at it: “Aldi plastic-free toilet roll packs – the German discounter will begin a trial in 174 stores in the North East and Midlands, aiming to replace non-recyclable plastic packaging with paper on toilet roll packs. If the trial is successful, this will be rolled out across all stores in the UK, and could be extended to kitchen towels.
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/07/which-supermarket-was-cheapest-in-june-2019/ – Which?

If we are going to make a substantial reduction in single-use plastics, I believe that legislation is the way to go. I expect that most of us can remember when toilet rolls were wrapped in paper rather than plastic. What I suggest is that use of plastic packaging is allowed only when there is no viable alternative and the type(s) of plastic permitted are specified and the list updated when necessary. I suggest we continue under one of the Convos on plastics.

I do like the idea of toilet paper being rolled out across all its stores, as Aldi has announced [see Malcolm’s comment above].

Won’t wear as well as carpet…

Wipe the floor with it? Bit of a waste John. 🧻🧻🧻🧻🧻

You’re on a roll here 🙂

I had a look kitchen rolls and toilet rolls yesterday evening and all were wrapped in plastic rather than paper. The shelves were being restocked and the plastic packs come wrapped in plastic. 🙁

It’s time that we pointed the finger at irresponsible manufacturers.

Perhaps this is the Convo for such matters? https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/waitrose-packaging-plastic-free-shopping-oxford/

Perhaps we should ban single use toilet paper? The Romans had reusable sponges (or so I’m told).

We can blame manufacturers. How about retailers (they have the power to decide what they buy). How about consumers, and their organisation? These products have been in sale in this form for years and years; why have we suddenly decided we can point the finger and demonise manufacturers?

Consumer pressure, if consumers felt so motivated, could be harnessed to demand changes. But if we can’t be bothered…….

If manufacturers stop using unnecessary plastic packaging then we don’t need to worry about retailers and consumers taking action. We got on fine with rolls wrapped in paper in the past. I will continue to point my finger at the root of the problem.

Hectare says:
18 July 2019

Despite what Amazon might say publicly about their desire to vet and remove fake reviews, their business model thrives on the fees they get from the sales of these good. So not much of an incentive for them remove revenue generating products/sellers

I have just got a message from Vanguard Investments stating they are WHICH recommended but I have been unable to verify this. Is the claim valid?

I fake reviews are a form of fraud but the seller, service provider(in many cases Amazon) feel immune because they operate across national and legal boundaries so jurisdiction is complicated. Most items are small value so complaining customers swallow their losses. The issue is complicated so trying standards enforcement is not simple. You are dealing with sharks!

I have signed the petition but I am not aware of the true extent of this problem. I can’t say that I have ever been aware of fake reviews, or of fake reviews swamping other reviews, made on public sites.

However, reviews made by single individuals in publications are far more often quite worthless.

There is a certain amount of common sense required when assessing reviews…