Data Doctors: How to spot fake product reviews online

Serious man looking at laptop and taking notes in notebook, portrait.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/nortonrsx)

Q: What tips do you have for rooting out fake product reviews?

Reviews have become such a huge influence in buying decisions that “gaming the system” is something we should all be aware of.

Taking reviews or review rating systems at face value is what most consumers do because it’s a quick way to make a decision, but that’s what those that create fake reviews are counting on.

There are companies in countries outside the U.S. selling large numbers of fake reviews, so it’s always a good idea to watch for grammar and language errors, or suspicious usernames.

Developing a process to dig into the reviews can help you avoid making purchases of products that might not fit your needs.

Review basics

A single review of any product isn’t nearly as valuable as a large number of reviews, so always start by looking at the quantity. Surveys suggest that the average number of reviews consumers are looking for is 34 in order to trust the overall rating.

If a product has a large number of reviews and all of them are 5 stars, it would be wise to do some further digging.

Very rarely does a product or a company execute everything perfectly, so when you don’t see a single review complaining about shipping, missing parts, difficult instructions or that it didn’t live up to expectations, be wary.

Reviewing the reviewer

Most platforms make it easy to see other reviews posted by a reviewer by clicking on their name/profile.

When you see similar wording on reviews for a wide variety of products, or constant grammar or language errors, it’s a clear red flag for that reviewer.

Lots of over-the-top short reviews with 5 stars should cause some concern, as most 5-star reviewers want to tell you their story.

The most valuable reviews tend to detail minor issues or challenges as more of the overall experience instead of just how great the product is.

Fake bad reviews

You should expect to see some bad comments on just about anything you’re going to buy, but it’s important to really dig into them. The most important thing you’ll learn is how the merchant responds to negative feedback.

It’s also important to review other feedback from that same reviewer to make sure you aren’t seeing a post from a chronic complainer.

Unfortunately, some people use bad reviews to extract additional benefits from the merchant when it’s unwarranted and, in some cases, never actually did business with them at all.

Review tools

There are a handful of free tools available for popular sites that can scan through large numbers of reviews and provide some insight.

Fakespot can analyze reviews for Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Best Buy, Sephora, Steam, Yelp and TripAdvisor, with plans to add others in the future.

If you buy a lot of tech gadgets, The Review Index can analyze Stream and Amazon URLs.

ReviewMeta only analyses Amazon reviews with very easy to understand reports.

Reporting fake reviews

Most sites offer the ability to tag reviews when you feel that something’s fishy, so look for a link below the review to report it.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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