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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
Catherine Sengupta says:
26 July 2019

How do you report to Amazon that you are still waiting for a refund of £140?
It shows in my Amazon status that I had been refunded but that is not the case and I cannot find a way to communicate with them that doesn’t involve jumping through endless hoops.

Use the online chat facility on their website- someone will phone you instantly -things get sorted that way. I’ve always either emailed customer services following the site link, or entered into Chat, to resolve issues.

Catherine:

This link will take you directly to their contact page.

It’s not just the fake reviews, it’s how difficult or impossible it is to leave a negative review. For example I recently bought an item on eBay – with a two year warranty – for my car. It exploded after about four hours use leaving me with no rear suspension. I took pictures and got in contact with the seller who offered a replacement. I said OK if this was an isolated incident and they could assure me it had not happened before and was just bad luck, eventually they came back saying it HAD happened before and to return the item for refund (which I have done and am still awaiting refund) . The opportunity to leave feedback on eBay has disappeared along with the purchase details. I would have left a negative review but there is now no possibility. As it has happened before I guess others have had the same experience but also been unable to leave neg feedback. EBay also no longer allows you to amend feedback, so I now don’t leave it until I have had the chance to test items over a period of time but too many people seem to immediately leave feedback so they can never report negatives. You have to wait a period anyway before you are allowed to leave negative feedback.

Moving on to the main review sites, most only allow reviews from actual purchasers, so – for example – Boilerjuice has good reviews despite being one of the most expensive ways of buying heating oil, presumably for people to use them they must think they are getting a good deal, hence good reviews. I always do the rounds before ordering my oil and Boilerjuice has NEVER been near the best price I have obtained in the many years they have been in business.

Agree with Steve’s comment about how difficult it is to leave a genuine negative review- for various reasons. As I’ve said before, an issue is that frequently a seller or establishment of necessity requests your email address and phone number. Once they have these, they can (and do) send you a fuming message if you have written a fair, yet negative review of a faulty product or an under-par hotel room etc. I have never written a fake review nor an unjustly negative review. Certainly, no buyer or hotel owner has ever offered me (or any of my friends) bribes to write good review- so who are these customers receiving these gifts as bribes?

In the case of Amazon I explained how this happens.

Robert says:
31 July 2019

I did fall for a review on Amazon when buying a product. But when the Product was proved to be absolutely useless, I gave them the Truth about the product in a review of my own.
There should be NO review when sold online. If you discover whatever you bought is not up to standard, then you should be able to return it at No cost to yourself, and get a refund or replacement immediately.
I now Never rely on any appraisement for anything online anymore.

A new article about fake reviews on Facebook: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/08/facebook-still-flooded-with-fake-review-groups-warns-which/

It would not have occurred to me to rely on anything published on Facebook to help me spend my money. 🙁

Suella Postles says:
8 August 2019

Fascinatingly when I wanted to leave thr reason a 5 out of 10 for British Telecom T, the on-line survey suddenly had problems and had to shut down. I wonder how often that happens with other services if we want to leave a critical comment?

AHMET ACAR says:
4 September 2019

Nothing in life is more expensive than a cheap product!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Howard Quinn says:
6 October 2019

I came across this on Facebook
https://twitter.com/SurveyCompareUK
and wonder whether it is a site that pays people for positive fictitious reviews.

Ignore 5/5 comments and most of the 4/5 ones and you won’t go far wrong. The same with IMDB reviews of of films and TV series. Most 10/10 scores would be lucky to get 6/10 in reality.

I submitted the following review on Amazon a few days ago for a Ztotop product:

“1-year warranty is dependent on you submitting a good review

“Ztotop’s ‘Thank You’ card reads: ‘After you leave a helpful review you can get a 1 year warraty (sic) for your product’.
“I had heard about companies bribing customers to leave good reviews, but in this case they are bribing you for something that you have a legal right to anyway.
Utterly shocking, and clearly not a company you can trust.”

Amazon has rejected the review on the grounds that it does not adhere to their guidelines (and very kindly provided a non-functioning link to their review guidelines).

So Amazon is preventing me from alerting potential purchasers that reviews of the product may not be trustworthy.

tobykeynes, the legal position is that no guarantee has to be offered:
From the Consumer Rights Act 2015 explanation for traders:
There is no requirement under the Act to offer a guarantee alongside goods. But if you – or the manufacturer – opt to provide a guarantee without extra charge, that if stated or advertised specifications are not met then the price will be reimbursed or goods will be repaired, replaced or otherwise handled, that guarantee is legally binding.

Your rights are protected under the Act but how you would exercise them depends upon who supplied the product. It is the supplying retailer with whom you have a contract. Presumably in this case it was Amazon. So any failure in the first 6 years would be down to them to resolve.

If it was just “fulfilled by Amazon”, where they seem to disclaim responsibility for most things, then I don’t know how rights would be exercised. It is time this was resolved.

i also left a bad review for a rug on amazon and received the same comment on the grounds that it did not adhere to their guidelines (they then also provided a non-functioning link to their guidelines) I felt so very angry that people like myself were being misled by a company they trusted. I am appalled that Amazon still get away with it.

I recently left a negative review (on Trustpilot) about a well-known electricity supplier. It was one of hundreds of similar reviews.
Interestingly, the company had responded to every one, inviting the reviewer to contact them by email, putting ‘Trustpilot – FAO xxx” in the header, so that the complaint could be looked into. I did this and received no response apart from an autoreply 5 hours later.
There were several reviewers complaining of the same lack of response to their emails.
This makes me wonder if the company in question is, in effect, creating fake responses to make it look as if they follow up complaints.
(I escalated the complaint to the CEO and got a response – now waiting for the outcome).

I placed a very very appreciative review on three pairs of trousers that i bought from Yarmo, I said, they were amazing value for money, the only downside was the that the hems could be stitched up better and the Zips could be of better quality, it wasn’t published as it didn’t get past Trust Pilots/Yarmo’s moderators.
Furthermore, I noticed that orders placed with Screwfix, the much admired by Which? On-line DIY supplier, enters customers into a prize draw if they submit a review on a given product, this is a blatent incentive to write favourable reviews, Screwfix is obviously not going to let the prize go to a negative revue, come on.

Hi Ron

Would you mind trying something?

Since Yarmo is moderating reviews to only let positive ones go through, the Trustpilot website might be seen by the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards as an advert

So can you do these things?

Visit the Citizens Advice website, and fill in the complaint form. Ask CA if Trustpilot & Yarmo is doing something wrong, by blocking your review, and if Trading Standards can get involved. Include a full copy of your review

Visit the Advertising Standards Authority website, and fill in the complaint form. Provide the web address of Trustpilot’s Yarno reviews section, and say you’re complaining about it. Include the following text

CAP code 3.1
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

CAP code 3.3
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.

Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product.

Since negative reviews like yours are being blocked, you’re complaining that the Trustpilot website is actually a marketing communication and an advert, but is not presented as such to consumers. It should be, and it’s misleading that it isn’t

If ASA refuses to take your case, go to the Contact Us section of the Which website and say what happened. Someone from Which may give advice on what to do next

And finally, can you email your MP and ask how they feel about review blocking. Please copy their reply to here so we can see

I posted a 1 star review on Amazon In October!!. I Constantly get emails from the company pleading with me to take down my review saying it is damaging the company the product was terrible. Their email address changes every few days as I don’t reply. They are now trying to offer me a £30 Amazon gift card to remove my review.

derekn, this is an Amazon Marketplace company that’s emailing you?

Are they emailing through Amazon’s message Inbox, or direct email to your email address?

What was the product they sold you?

I wonder how they got your email address?

It was the Andrew handheld vacuum cleaner

This is a sample of the type of emails I receive.

In recent times, I have sent you several emails about product compensation, but I have not been able to receive your response. I am a newcomer who has just entered the workplace. Your reviews are really important to me. We are willing to compensate you for the £ 30 Amazon Gift Card. I hope you do n’t mind deleting your reviews, okay? I really hope to get your help, sincere thanks, and look forward to hearing from you.

Another sample email
I ’m really sorry, I ’m a fresh graduate. This review has a great impact on my job. This job is really important to me. I hope you can help me once and we can make up for your loss. give me a chance, please

Hope you can reply!

best regards.

There isn’t an Andrew hand held vacuum but there is an Audew. There are 57 one-star reviews of that product, all saying much the same thing. If they’re offering £30.00 per review that’s £1,710 to clean up the negative reviews. That’s only the one star reviews.

The advertising blurb is littered with errors:

We devote solving your troubles in housework

is an example, and there are many more.

Yes it was the Audew vacuum cleaner. Everything about the vacuum cleaner was cheap and poor quality it was quickly returned back to amazon. They must constantly email poor reviewers. Your probably right most of these 5 star reviews must be fake.

I think without doubt they were. Amazon could rectify this in two ways: by allowing companies to offer products for free instead of the absurd system where payment is withheld until after a favourable review is posted and, secondly, by maintaining an open list of trusted reviewers.

I’ve long believed this was one of Which?’s most obvious own goals. They campaigned to remove the supply of free products to reviewers and, of course, the companies found a way around it – a way which endows them with greater power to control the resultant review.

Andy says:
21 January 2020

Amazon are a complete joke, Most reviews are not related to the products so totally misleading, even AMAZON Choice products are corrupted with fake reviews. They seem unable to change or stop these. From now on I will try to support UK Companies.

I try reading the reviews rather than trusting the ratings these days, hoping to filter out fakes and spot any horror stories and product faults early.
Ratings are not only corrupted by fake reviews, but also by censorship by inconsistent Amazon staff. They’ve refused to post around half of my negative reviews over 10+ years. E.g. saying that an item of jewellery that keeps coming up on sale was ugly, the person bought for didn’t want it, and after that I literally couldn’t give it away. Naturally, it has a 4-5* review score.
On the other hand, some customers leave reviews complaining their item was received damaged, when they should really just contact customer support, who will usually send a free replacement. But those reviews don’t get censored? Inconsistent.

Another part of the review problem is fake negative reviews (from competing sellers) that put you off buying a good product. That’s not really being talked about.

Much like social media is a poor replacement for well edited journalism, customer reviews are a poor replacement for review services. But let’s not forget that people stopped trusting reviews because companies were buying them and saying that shoddy products were wonderful. Business integrity is the real problem throughout here, and whatever system we put in place they’re going to find a way to game it. Solution? Subscribe to Which, see if their reviewed products consistently meet your expectations, and kick up a fuss if they start slipping.

Very true

Trustedreviews used to be a great site, until they were bought by someone
Now the place is full of intrusive ads that slow and clutter your browser, and the reviews aren’t serious and detailed anymore. They now avoid being critical of products

Which reviewers aren’t good enough for a subscription

They may touch generally on issues and problems, but it’s better to go to an independent indepth reviewer if you’re serious about certain products, especially if you want a review of the latest things

If I want to buy new headphones for example, I’d see what a detailed Youtube reviewer would say, like these ones

Resolve Reviews
https://www.youtube.com/user/GrippeSC2/videos

The Headphone Show
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCt44wdefZzrhNDYYAyEy3Xg/videos

Joshua Valour
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCx9bOYEjkevIDYONBAstK-A/videos

The Next Best Thing Studio
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG8GZMXiVDTWk8U5PnOmJcw/videos

Max Settings
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCr98MgOIAq7dagJfE4baFBw/videos

Or I would go to Innerfidelity and Head Fi

Which reviewers simply aren’t good enough

I generally take little notice of reviews since I usually know what I want to buy and am just looking for facts on the product specification, price, availability and so on.

The major flaw with customer reviews is, as Wavechange commented elsewhere, they are not comparative. Which? and various periodicals test and compare the range of available products in a specific category, report their findings and generally score them. This is a consistent and broadly reliable process. How can we have any confidence in the ability of an individual purchaser to comment sensibly on one out of many comparable items of which they are mostly ignorant? There is a value in reviews if they point out defects, but as we have seen these can be open to manipulation, or even not listed, so all the reviews on that item are distorted. A number of reviews cancel others out on what I would regard as matters of fact, so the whole business is disreputable.

This ‘Black Friday’ is a complete fiasco and purely a means for sellers to dispose of unwanted items. I would rather not buy then.

I’m very suspicious of brands I have never heard of and scrutinise a lot of reviews to check all comments – positive and negative. I also look out for duplicate comments from different people as it looks like just cut and paste from something else. Caveat Emptor!

I have two fake reviews against my books from a troll who I had a spat with on Twitter. I proved to Amazon that the reviews were fake – that he’d never even bought my books, yet their “community” still thinks the reviews don’t contravene their guidelines (which state quite clearly “Any attempt to manipulate Community content or features, including by contributing false, misleading, or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited.”). I even contacted the MD, Douglas Gurr, at Amazon but he was as useful as a chocolate fireguard – all he did was forward the mail onto the “Community” support. I’ve emailed them several times, but after the initial email when they “determine” the reviews don’t breach their guidelines, they then stop responding and just ignore me. Utterly disgusting.

Reviews shouldn’t be permitted from people who have not bought the product.

I recently noticed a product that had been given 1*.
The review was
Expensive not worth the money
Can’t think of any kind of reasons to own this bread machine. As too much money for so little. Just don’t buy it. Avoid the hassle of returning it

I looked at the persons reviews and they appear to just pick on products and review them without any actual knowledge of them.