The Scourge Of The Web: Fake Reviews & How To Spot Them

Fake Reviews Intro   The Scourge Of The Web: Fake Reviews & How To Spot Them“User reviews” are actually a pretty recent phenomenon. Before the prevalence of the Internet, user reviews were called testimonials, and you’d only see them on TV commercials and product pages. Nowadays, anyone can write anything on any product – and there’s no filter for what you can say. Enter the problem of fake and falsified user reviews.

If you spend any time researching products and services, you’ll run into a fake review. It’s inevitable. Yelp, Amazon, Google Reviews, Newegg. Go anywhere and you’ll see them all over the place. “But Joel“, you say, “I read a lot of reviews and I’ve never seen a fake one.” Oh, but you have!

That’s the kind of sentiment that truly proves the dangers and problems of fake reviews. They’re so hard to distinguish from real reviews. Fake reviews damage the integrity of the reviewing system and can mislead consumers into buying something they otherwise wouldn’t have bought.

So how do you spot fake reviews? Here are some of the biggest red flags that may signify a falsified review. Just to be clear, if you see one or two of these flags, the review may still be genuine. However, if you see a lot of these, then there’s a good chance of it being fake.

Extreme Emotions & Tone

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If a particular review skews in one direction in an extreme way – whether it’s way too supportive or way too criticizing – then you should be aware that the reviewer did not write that review with a genuine heart.

If a review says nothing but good things, then the person likely has blind loyalty for the brand or they’ve been paid to write good reviews on the company’s behalf. Either way, these reviews aren’t going to help you very much. Nothing is ever perfect in the world of real reviews.

Similarly, if someone has nothing but bad things to say, they may be on a campaign to slander or defame the product or company. If everyone is saying bad things, that’s one thing, but if the general consensus is good and someone gives a 0-star rating with vitriol, then be skeptical.

Personal Details & Anecdotes

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If I had a dime for every review I read that said “this product changed my life“, I’d have enough to retire right now. Testimonial reviews are often – but not always – fake, mostly because people don’t really talk in testimonial mode unless they’re specifically endorsing a product.

But along those same lines, watch out for reviews that come in story form. “My husband and I were out grocery shopping when we decided to stop by the local Best Buy and WOW! This TV immediately caught our eye!” Yeah, no. Those are the kinds of reviews that people write to tug at your heartstrings and make you more open to buying the product.

Unusual Sentence Structure

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Unusual sentence structure comes in two forms: the perfect grammar type and the foreign language type. Neither of these are inherently bad, but if they go to the extremes, then they can be indicative of a paid review.

When the review sounds like it was written by a professional writer and uses awkward phrasings that you’d normally see in a product description – like “this program integrates seamlessly with my other programs” – then there’s a good chance that it was a paid review to make the features seem awesome.

On the other hand, when a review tries to be professional but undoubtedly falls short in spelling and grammar, then you may be looking at an outsourced review. Yes, some companies will pay freelancers in the third world (mostly China, India, and the Phillipines) to talk up their products in user reviews. Keep an eye out for them.

Excess Sarcasm Or Humor

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This may be obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when a reviewer is genuinely being funny or when they’re just writing a bogus review as a joke. Basically, if the review has nothing of substance in relation to the actual product’s purpose, then feel free to ignore it.

In fact, as a general rule, if a review wanders off topic from actually describing the product, then flag it as a fake and move on. You may skip over some genuine reviews by doing this, but you’ll end up saving yourself a lot of time.

What Can You Do About Fake Reviews?

Fake reviews are like pornography: it’s hard to create an exact description of it, but you’ll know it when you see it. Even knowing the warning signs of a fake review, it can still be tough to spot one – so here are some good habits you should form to protect yourself from being burned by them.

  • When looking for reviews, check out reviews from multiple people. When using Amazon, for example, read 1-star reviews, 5-star reviews, and reviews in between. Get a general feel for what people are saying and throw out the outliers.
  • Don’t rely solely on user reviews. Sure, it might seem like user reviews should be more genuine than professional reviews, but not when fake reviews are taking over. Professionals have an ulterior motive with their reviews, but at least most of them know what they’re talking about. If user reviews line up with a professional review, then you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
  • Seek out reviews from multiple sources. Don’t just look at the big-name review spots like Amazon, Yelp, Google, CNet, etc. Find as many reviews as you can. The larger the sample size that you can put together, the more accurate of a picture you’ll be able to see.
  • Report fake reviews when you see them. Some sites, like Yelp, have built-in features that allow readers to alert the admins when you come across a fake review. Not all sites have this option, though, so you may need to contact the site’s support team.
  • And lastly, you can help other people by writing reviews of your own. If you buy something online, leave a review! Whether you liked it or not, whether the item had a big price tag or not, write your opinions for others to read. If we all start writing more reviews, then we all benefit in the end.

Have you had any experience with fake reviews? How do you spot them? Let us know in the comments.

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39 Comments -

1 votes

bill

This was the greatest article i’ve ever read. it was perfect. articulate to a flaw and i must go back and read it again. I just did and it is even greater than the first time i read it. let me go back and read it again. Still perfect and articulate and…what did i write before…oh yeah…articulate and spot on. I just reread it and it is now the worst article ever. just trash. who writes this meaningless drivel? ;)

0 votes

Joel Lee

There has never been a better comment than this one.

0 votes

Lisa Santika Onggrid

I second that. He’s brilliant.

0 votes

ben

Bill, you’re the man. You made Joel laugh!

0 votes

Danijel Cukari?

awesome

0 votes

Jason M

Yelp has ZERO credibility. Word of mouth from friends, family and co-workers trump yelp reviews any day.

0 votes

Joel Lee

Absolutely agreed. I only use Yelp to find places to go but I rarely base my decisions on their reviews. The user submitted photos can be helpful sometimes. Defintely more helpful than their reviews, at least.

0 votes

Marianne Martin

I agree 100% with you regarding Yelp. It is a waste of time to even put a real comment on Yelp as no one believes the comments anyway. Yelp is a joke!

0 votes

Adam Campbell

My wife and I were out browsing the web when we decided to stop by MakeUseOF.com and WOW! This article immediately caught our eye!

0 votes

Adam Campbell

and for the record, I don’t have a wife

0 votes

Joel Lee

But it all sounded so real! :(

0 votes

Adam Campbell

ikr

0 votes

Lisa Santika Onggrid

We encounter these in daily basis. I leave the website when I see nothing but praises or the opposite. Sometimes though, the product/software is so niche that I finally decide to test it myself. Pretty good incentive to write a review.

0 votes

Sharad Chandra Shrestha

That’s why I love this site,being a good friend who helps you.And thanks to Joel,We love you friend.

0 votes

bben

Spot on – I rarely pay much attention to the 5 star or 1 star ratings – I would much rather see a bunch of 4 star ratings – Most people can find something to complain about with even the best product. And for a bad product – at least a few 2 star ratings, as even the worst product will have some good points – Although many people give 1 for not being able to get something to work when it’s their own fault. I tend to pay much more attention to the low rating descriptions rather than just the stars to see why someone didn’t like a product I am interested in. That doesn’t mean I will reject it out of hand as often their reasons are not relevant to what I want.

0 votes

Joel Lee

Yeah, 2-4 star reviews often speak more truth than 1 or 5 star reviews.

0 votes

Mac Witty

Another sign is if there is a lot of reviews at the same day

0 votes

Joel Lee

Good point. Never thought of that, but that could be an indication (not always) of bots and fake reviewers.

0 votes

Dany Bouffard

Good advice, I usually do this verify various websites for reviews, from private or official sources. And sometimes negative review are from peoples that didnt know the product and tried to buy it and it wasn’t corresponding to what they tought it was suppose to do.

0 votes

Joel Lee

I absolutely hate it when someone gives a 1 star review for something like “I bought this and it wasn’t what I thought it would be.” Argh!

1 votes

Muo TechGuy

I think you’ll find the majority of bad grammar in reviews is because they’re written by morons, not outsourced. Those indian outsourcers actually have better grammar than most ‘muuuuricaans.

Also, I feel like that review you featured made fun of dog raincoat play, and as a dog raincoat player I felt particularly hurt by this statement.

0 votes

Poobs

I’m a professional writer. Whenever I write *anything*, I proofread, edit, re-proof and re-edit ad nauseum. Why? Because what I’ve written is the only thing you’ll ever have to judge me by, and I don’t want you to judge that I’m an idiot. Therefore, my reviews are as grammatically correct and well-written as I can make them. I’m FAR from the only writer who feels that way (if you don’t, you shouldn’t be writing). I’m FAR from the only writer who writes *personal, spontaneous* reviews. Thanks for making others think our reviews are fake, and therefore a waste of our time to write.

Oh, Joel . . . you *do* write well-written reviews, too, don’t you?

0 votes

ReadandShare

+1

I take pride in expressing myself as an educated person –which most all of us here are. So why settle for sloppiness?

And Joel — I disagree with your view that a well-written review is a fake review.

0 votes

Joel Lee

Please read my response to Poobs for clarification.

0 votes

Joel Lee

As I said in the article, it’s not the proper spelling and grammar so much as the awkward phrasings that a professional writer might use. And just to clarify, the identification of fake reviews is only pertinent for User Review systems.

If you read a User Review on an Amazon product page and it sounds like a paid professional review, obviously it’s biased. It’s not a genuine user review. This doesn’t apply outside of User Reviews, such as on this site.

0 votes

Joel Lee

Whoops. Hit Enter too early on the other response.

Just wanted to add that I did place a disclaimer at the start of the article: “Just to be clear, if you see one or two of these flags, the review may still be genuine.”

The problem is when a review begins to exhibit multiple signs that it may be fake.

0 votes

susendeep dutta

Before believing on a review,one must refer to professional review given by tech bloggers.
This tip given on your article was much useful.

0 votes

Gary Mundy

Good advice, as always should be taken with a pound of salt.
Thanks

0 votes

Joel Lee

Agreed!

0 votes

Marianne Martin

Finally, we have someone bringing up this issue! Thank you very much!! Great article!

0 votes

Joel Lee

Glad you benefited from it. Thanks!

0 votes

Marianne Martin

No thank you. I love MakeUseOf.com. I tell everyone I know about this site.

0 votes

Anonymous

I usually gauge reviews like Olympic judges — throw out the worst, throw out the best, average the rest. Also, I give solid weight to someone who gives real reasons for their opinion, not just a list of superlative descriptions.

0 votes

Joel Lee

Very good method that I fully agree with. Nice!

0 votes

Qin Tang

Thanks for this article, good job!

0 votes

Joel Lee

You’re welcome and thank you! :D

0 votes

Chandra

Good article. Spotting fake reviews may become even more difficult now. Someone may come up with a ‘Real Plan’ (not fake) to submit fake reviews by different people , over a long period of time, rating between 2-4, some good and some bad… and some in between.. to mould people’s views.

So every time we must rely on our own judgment every single time we survey each and every single product.

0 votes

Joel Lee

That’s true. Fake reviewers will evolve and learn new techniques over time. We can only hope that review sites and user review systems also evolve so that these fakers don’t hold too much influence over them.

0 votes

dragonmouth

How one perceives a review depends a lot on one’s general frame of mind. If one is a trusting soul and believes that the Nigerians do need money to free up their bank accounts, then one will not be able to spot fake reviews. If, on the other hand, one is a cynic, one will not believe any reviewer, believing instead that each reviewer has ulterior motives.

Let’s not forget that all reviews, whether professional and real or amateur and fake, are nothing more than opinion pieces and, as such, are based on the reviewer’s perceptions. One cannot argue with perceptions. How many times have you gone to see a movie or to eat at a restaurant based on a favorable review, only to discover that your experience was opposite of the reviewer’s?