Fake Reviews: Spotting a Big, Fat Phony!

January 26 , 2016 by in Marketing
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Spotting fake reviews

Our ancestors had to learn how to survive and pick up the signals of a predator, or the tracks of the prey they themselves were after. Nowadays, our survival relies more on the ability to wade through an overflowing river of information and being able to separate the genuine article among the torrent of camouflaged frauds.

Even though 68% of us use online reviews before shopping locally, we often take the reviews with a grain of salt. Our primitive instincts still work to warn us of false flags, even if the threat is no longer a lion in the bush, but a bought and paid for review.

The Real Cost of Fake Reviews

It’s a deceptive practice that is relatively easy to do, and surprisingly price-efficient. While legitimate companies work hard to get just a single link to their site and a handful of real reviews from real customers, the fraudsters can create a sterling online reputation for as little as $5.

Page offering reviews for sale

If you look at the link above, it’s for a cool company called Fiverr. Where freelancers can offer services over the web for as little as $5. It’s incredibly useful if you need a quick graphic, a short bit of copy, or help with a logo, but as you can see, it’s also host to those willing to sell their time and online reputation for a cheap price.

Skeptical Hippo is skeptical

I can’t help but point out the beautiful irony that takes place here. The above user is in the practice of selling reviews, while relying on reviews on their fake reviewing, in order to attract more customers to write fake reviews for.

Yo Dawg, I heard you like reviews

You might think it’s a bit of harmless self promotion, even if it’s dishonest. I mean, is it any worse than billboards and commercials hawking their products to you? Quite a few businesses have attempted to justify it to themselves, but be warned; it could cost you.

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The web of deceit woven around reviews has made the Justice Department take notice. While regulators are cracking down and companies are paying fines for their illegal self-promotion, the companies that host said review sites, are attempting to dam the the river. Facebook and Twitter still have a ways to go, but are incorporating software to detect fake likes, follows, and ratings.

Amazon has been the darling child of reviews; to a point where many (myself included) use Amazon Reviews even if we aren’t purchasing the product there. As the ability to rate and review is important to the online behemoth, they have been taking steps to sue the fraudsters.

Review integrity is vital for places like Amazon, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. The better the policing on reviews, the more trust consumers can have in them, and the more legitimate reviews we will see.

This is a great step in the right direction, but even wary online shoppers can be fooled. That’s because even reviews with verified purchases can be fake.

How to Spot a Fake Review

Even though most of this will seem like common sense, it turns out we, as humans, are incredibly inept at detecting fake reviews.

Beware of extremes
Overly enthusiastically positive or negative reviews raise a red flag. False reviews often tip their hand by using extreme language or typing in all caps,

Unless their name is Sheldon and they are a dysfunctional genius, people don’t often use industry jargon, item numbers, or full product names.
i.e. The Nikon Coolpix L340 Digital Camera (Black) is the BEST Digital Single Lens Reflex camera I have ever used! Its 28x optical zoom produces no chromatic aberrations!

Detail is key
While positive reviews are often more generalized, genuine negative reviews are usually very specific. Have you ever had something go wrong with a product? I bet you can tell us exactly what happened. Put more stock in reviews that provide details of what happened.
i.e. This dentist was BAD vs Dr. McGillicutty did a root canal on the wrong side, cheats on his taxes, and he framed me for murder!

Review the reviewer
Most sites require a user to have an account, where you can see other reviews they have done. Some sites require verification of purchase, in line with the #NoReceipt, #NoReview movement. If the user only writes reviews for a particular company, paid reviews, or made an account just for that particular review, take what they say with a grain of salt.

Fake Testimonia

Seems legit

Don’t Trust Yourself
Ultimately, while these are good steps to sort out the obvious fake reviews, this is one of those situations where unbiased software is significantly better at fraud detection and pattern recognition than we are. Most people do little better than chance when spotting the fakes, but new developments are there to help you out, with 90% accuracy. Fakespot even offers a browser extension so you can input a review page and it will instantly analyze its contents. It goes as far as, considering the ratings, the dates, the language used, and the reviewer’s past comments/ratings; taking the leg work out of it.

Fakespot analysis says most of these toothbrush reviews are fake.
While most reviews are legitimate, some are clouded with lies. The more blatant ones are easy to pick out, while better ones may escape undetected even when you are looking for them. Whether you are a consumer or a business owner, it is important to be able to distinguish the real reviews from the Big, Fat Phonies.


About Matthew Biss

When not lifting cars or throwing large rocks, Matt escapes the disappointment of his life with nerdy games such as Magic, Warhammer, or Dungeons and Dragons. He is a history buff with several podcasts in the works, and hopes to live his dreams through his young son who was taught how to squat before learning to use the potty.

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