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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
Derek McCarthy says:
18 July 2019

I have been offered a discount on a product I bought which was sub standard, I accepted that but only posted that I had received a discount as compensation. I also gave a poor review on a service, which was declined by the review company, I didn`t think it was that bad just honest. so that`s worse than a poor opinion being changed, from the posters side.

I regularly hire cars from Zest car rental, who are very good. Most of my rentals are in Sofia, Bulgaria. They tend mainly to use one rental company there. But this summer a new one came recommended. I discovered they are the subsidiary of the other company. I checked their 5 star review (they were all 5star). They were all given on the same few days and everyone was a first time reviewer. Despite being at the airport they were all Bulgarian citizens. This is easy to spot. Not so easy to stop. SPOT, yes. STOP, no.

Vernon says:
18 July 2019

I understand Amazon gets fake reviews which are soul destroying when we fall victim.

I have to say that i search all reviews, and go for mainly prime products as they are under the amazon protection banner.

I order literally 4 x times per week from amazon over the last 4yrs and only had 3 x hickups so far?

I have had money back 2 of the 3 times and the third time was via third party seller who completely lied to me so £51 went down the drain. The fourth time was another third party seller and same happened there.

But amazon seem to be helpful…

Jon says:
18 July 2019

I recently looked for a item on Amazon. There were several different companies selling this type of item so i had a look at the reviews. I noticed that two of the items had 5 star reviews from ‘different’ reviewers but that the wording of the reviews was exactly the same, and I mean EXACTLY the same, even down to the strange placing of a comma between two words. I reported this to Amazon and also put on a 1 star review that warned people about it. Most of the reviews were obviously written by people who did not have English as a first language and all of them were 5 stars.

Bruce Dibben says:
18 July 2019

Well done all the Jons who contributed to WHICH. I am now too old to research and report and most grateful that through Which you are helping thousands of older and easier to trick folk, perhaps some of your own relatives.

D.Williams says:
18 July 2019

When looking for reviews of an item i am always suspicious if most of them direct me straight to Amazon.

Neville Singh says:
18 July 2019

It is difficult to assess a review if you are searching for an item for a long time and tend to believe reading whats in front of you and trying to decide which is fake false or genuine

Ron says:
18 July 2019

I regard sopping sites like Amazon & eBay as safe, serious & reliable, but have had growing concerns about too reviews for items unknown elsewhere. It has to be in the interests of these sites to take this seriously to protect the trust in their brands. If / when that is lost, it will be hard to recover.

One major issue is the numbers of (apparently) small Chinese companies who sell low-cost items, frequently promising to deal with issues you never knew you had.

It works like this: in the profile page of their account Amazon users can publish an email address, through which they can be contacted. This address is harvested and shortly after publishing, an Amazon user can expect around 2-3 emails per week offering free products in exchange for reviews.

When Amazon came under fire from Which? some time ago for fake reviews, they publicised this and Amazon changed its policy so against each review the phrase ‘verified purchase’ would appear. That led to the system now used, whereby the reviewer has to purchase the item and the company supplying it then reimburses.

There have, as should have been expected, been reports that some reviewer now have to extol the praises of the product to ensure they get a refund. In my view, the protests about fake reviews have led to a system which empower the seller, so it’s now far worse than it was.

I’ve been reviewing for Amazon (and others) for years and I’ve never, ever reviewed with less than complete honesty. But I won’t use the new system, despite the numerous offer I get on an almost daily basis.

Reviewers for cars, films, books, TV shows, plays, events – almost anything else you can think of – are paid. Which? (and others) have – I believe – aimed for the wrong target or at least achieved entirely the wrong result. The problem is rogue reviews, as they devalue the work of good reviewers. How you eliminate them is another matter, and perhaps one that should have been addressed more carefully when the campaign against Amazon’s reviews was launched. However, FWIW, here’s my advice as a professional reviewer:

1. Ignore short reviews. Any decent reviewer loves writing, and writes prolifically, so anything less than 3-400 words should be ignored.

2. Ignore reviews that don’t go into detail. Precise detail is needed for a review to be meaningful.

3. Ignore reviews that seem to have a tenuous grasp on English. A review has to paint a picture, and if they can’t use the words to do that, then the review is probably valueless.

Fake reviews are a real problem because you start to mistrust all of them including the genuine ones, no review is better than fake reviews.

John Ramsay says:
18 July 2019

Dealing with Amazon is bad news. We were recently ‘forwarded’ double the number of air conditioners ordered, of the wrong spec, very badly packed and billed by an agent. We’ll never use Amazon again.

Kay Souissi says:
18 July 2019

When I have tried to give a moderate review with less than 5 stars on amazon my review has not been accepted. Fake reviews are difficult to spot.

Almost none of the reviews I’ve written for Amazon has ever had five stars. They tend to reject on other grounds, Kay, the most common being if you criticise the trader as well as or instead of the product.

To review the trader you have to await their ‘trader review’ email, then you can launch forth. But they don’t reject moderate reviews that comply with the rules.

I bought a product and found out it wasn’t up to standard , seller insisted that i change my review in order to get my money back , i told the seller the review is my opinion and the truth, if i change it it will be misleading and telling a lie

This sounds like a market place seller. They have no right to tell you that and are obliged under the law to refund any product you buy within 28 days, without a reason being given. If it’s faulty or does not perform as promised, then that also have to refund postage costs.

Rosie Dower says:
18 July 2019

My email account was hacked specifically to post fake reviews on Amazon, who have been completely useless in getting to the bottom of it. They could not investigate their way out of a paper bag and don’t take complaints seriously.
When I altered the reviews to one star and advised buyers that they were fraudulent, I was threatened by them:
“ One or more of your posts were found to be outside our guidelines. In order to help customer make informed choices, we encourage them to review the product and information related to it. However, posts which violate our guidelines or conditions of use will be removed.

If this continues, we’ll remove your Community privileges from your account in accordance with our Conditions of Use. Please take a look at our guidelines before submitting a post again:”
To say I am furious is an understatement!

Rosie, that sounds as though the post or posts used language or made allegations that were outside of their rules. If you have proof that your email account was hacked, then that can be presented to Amazon who, IME, will react very swiftly to remedy the matter.

Bill says:
18 July 2019

I write for a living and can generally spot fake reviews quite easily. However, where the “Which Quiz” is wrong, is the minor detail that it’s not unusual for fakers to plant a few “so-so” reviews of a product to give the illusion of honesty and occasional disagreement to make things look better in an overall sense. For example, you might say something along the lines of – “I didn’t really like this book as much as the last one, so I’ve only given it 6/10, but I can see why it would be really useful to others, etc.”

Amazon seem to be a bit better these days, but used to be pretty bad with fake books, music and DVD reviews. In addition to excessive praise for products, it is not unusual to see negative feedback posted for obvious reasons where there is competition. In my opinion, the worst fake reviews can usually be found on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) and it’s often fairly clear that studios are willing to spend vast amounts of money having groups of professional writers talk-up rubbish films as there is probably a great deal of money available from the publicity budget and the right words can make considerable difference to the way things work out. This site is operated by Amazon and should be the first stop for any investigation into this area.

One of the issues that has not received much attention here – if any – is the cost to consumers of running a review system. It doesn’t come for nothing, especially if it is properly supervised and moderated by the host service provider or the retailer directly. Perhaps in relation to the overall volume of trade it is not significant and is regarded as worthwhile business expense leading to higher sales. But all business costs feed into prices somewhere along the line.

By being an open system, and theoretically transparent, it has sharpened the competitive instinct which is the root of many of the problems with it. It is in danger of becoming so discredited with even long-standing review sites like TripAdvisor being embroiled in allegations of misrepresentation and susceptible to manipulation by operators. Downstream judgments also hinge on the quality and reliability of the review process, which is why such effort is put into suppressing negative reviews or buying them off. The internet sparked the review process because it made it so easy and convenient to submit one and to read them all; it was the consumer’s friend. Once trust in reviews falls away it becomes a handicap to fair trading. Making the system work better will not be free of cost. Are consumers willing to pay for it?

Dave says:
19 July 2019

I see sites that mention their product has been recommended or highly rated by Which.
Does Which keep a database that consumers can refer to for verification?

I buy a lot of things online and have been caught out with dodgy goods. I make sure that I report them to the sites I use, haswell as giving a bad review. One company didnt like it, but I refused to take it down. They refused to take item back but site did make them refund my money but it was a hassle to get. People need to report and keep on at the sites however much the item is or how long it takes!

Colin Richardson says:
19 July 2019

most people are honest, so if a trader says , if its a bad review please leave it out. Don’t,tell it as it is, if it’s rubbish or not fit for purpose, let everyone know. if the trader’s stuff isn’t up to scratch, he shouldn’t be selling

Bob says:
19 July 2019

If it seems to be to good, to be true then it has every chance of being fake. Remember there is no such as a free meal.

Alasdair says:
19 July 2019

Fake reviewers don’t care about the language they use. Spelling mistakes, weird vocabulary, or management speak in the wrong place are all tell-tale signs.
Optimise your enablement going forward!

Michael Wordsworth says:
19 July 2019

Having lost many thousands of pounds in fake Spanish lottery claims and other fake financial deals I am now VERY careful in all claims by all agents and supposed manufacturers. ( I did not know at the time that you have to be a resident in Spain to enter the Spanish Lottery!) Other losses are from Timeshare agents, who say that they will enable you to get out of the lifetime membership, but in spite of paying out more thousands of pounds, none of them has succeeded!