How to recognize fake online reviews of products and services

A fake review could be done by the company itself, by posting a fabricated positive review on its own site or by posting concocted negative reviews on a competitor’s site.

Consumer alerts

Tips & Guides


Updated

Endorsements to deceive consumers are plentiful on the Internet. To mediate this problem, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put hundreds of companies on notice in October 2021 that if they use fabricated endorsements to deceive consumers, they could face financial penalties up to $43,793 per violation. The FTC has proposed new rules to protect consumers and competitors of businesses who post or allow fake reviews.

That might help but it of course won’t eliminate all fake reviews.

Spotting fake reviews is difficult, but these seven tips can help, especially when shopping online

Look at the dates of the reviews

If there are many reviews in a short period of time for a product that’s not new to the market, it can be an indication the reviews are fake. A listing that has a diverse range of reviews from different periods of time can be more trustworthy.

Watch out for reviews that use similar language

If there are many reviews posted in a short period of time using similar language, that’s a good indication the reviews could be fake. In exchange for a free product, there could be an expectation for a consumer to use certain phrases when reviewing the product.

Beware of social media reviews

 The FTC guidelines on disclosures require influencers to reveal they have a financial, employment, personal or family relationship with a brand when promoting their product. Popular social media influencers have come under scrutiny for not disclosing their relationship with a brand while telling their audience to purchase or use a product.

See whether the reviewer’s purchase was verified

Some online retailers will tell you. A review that shows it was from a verified purchaser is more trustworthy than a review involving a supposed purchase that has not been verified.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

When leaving an honest review, most customers aren’t overly positive or negative. They could have a good experience, but still have criticism on one aspect. If it sounds like the best thing that’s ever been sold, there’s room to be skeptical.

Pay attention to the language of the review

A study done by Cornell University researchers looking at real and fake hotel reviews found that the real reviews used straightforward language.

Check out the reviewer

If a reviewer has submitted only one review on one product ever, that can also be a sign of a fake review.

Fighting back

In a related problem, some companies reportedly suppress negative consumer reviews from websites to mislead potential customers. In the FTC’s first case involving a company’s alleged efforts to conceal negative customer reviews, Fashion Nova, LCC, has been required to pay $4.2 million as part of a settlement.

This announcement in January 2022 came after the FTC alleged the retailer blocked negative reviews of its products from being posted on its website. According to the FTC, Fashion Nova only allowed four-star and five-star reviews to be posted automatically and held lower rating reviews to be looked at before being posted to the site.The FTC said that over a four-year period, Fashion Nova didn’t approve or post “hundreds of thousands of lower-starred, more negative reviews.”

One form of endorsement is a fake review, which can be used to trick a consumer into purchasing a product. A fake review could be done by the company itself, by posting a fabricated positive review on its own site or by posting concocted negative reviews on a competitor’s site.

Another type of fake review: When a company sends a product to a consumer at no charge and the consumer writes a positive review with no mention of they got the product free. There may be an unwritten understanding that it was a quid pro quo.

Types of fake reviews

  1. An actual fake or fabricated positive review, which can be used to trick a consumer into purchasing a product. It could be done by the company itself or employees or friends or relatives.
  2. A positive review that occurs after a company sends a product to a consumer at no charge and the writer didn’t mention how they received the product. There may be an unwritten understanding that it was a quid pro quo.
  3. A negative review on a company’s site left by friends or employees of a competitor.
  4. The suppression of a negative review on its own site. This is like a child showing her parents only the tests that earned an A or B and throwing the rest in the trash.
  5. Review “hijacking.” This occurs when a company “repurposes” reviews from a product to make it look as if another, completely different product has lots of positive review. In the first case of its kind, the FTC in February 2023 took action against a vitamins company, which deceived consumers on Amazon by folding new products into older listings for different products, the FTC said.

There are other types of fake reviews as well.

Topics
Authors

Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.