Posted: Marcus Varner | March 24, 2016

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Fake Reviews: 6 Offenders to Look Out For

fake reviews

We've become dependent on consumer reviews, but is it really for the best?

On one side, consumer reviews, fueled by the growth of the Internet, have turned the tables on marketers everywhere-returned the power to the people, as it were. As a result, companies have found themselves at a loss. A 2015 Nielsen study found that 66% of people trust online product reviews to help them make their purchasing decisions. Other studies have not only confirmed this, but revealed that they also don't trust company advertisements. In fact, they trust the word of family, friends, and complete strangers ahead of brands.

This is at it should be, right? After all, companies have ulterior motives and, therefore, can't be trusted to speak honestly about their products or services. Right?

If only it were that simple. While consumer reviews have certainly brought new, much-needed transparency to consumers, the online review system isn't foolproof.

consumer reviews

Just last year, Amazon filed a landmark lawsuit against 1,100 people accused of hiring themselves out to post fake product reviews on the retail site.

Yelp recently disclosed that as much as 25% of all the reviews on their site are fake.

In his recent ConsumerReports article, Tod Marks stated:

"Online reviews aren't always as innocent as they seem and savvy shoppers should be skeptical of what they are reading. The reason? Some of those endorsements aren't actually written by other consumers."

In fact, fake reviewers threaten to undermine the trust that consumer reviews are supposed to have a monopoly on. While some reviews are blatantly obvious fakes, there are enough that aren't so obvious to the untrained eye.

Fortunately, consumers like you and me don't need to give up on reviews. We can still get the benefits of reviews if we know how to spot the fakes. Here are the six most common offenders:

1. The Reviewer For Hire

fake reviews

How to spot them:

  • Product reviews that are purely positive, without anything negative to say
  • Product reviews that are purely negative, without anything positive to say
  • Product reviews that lack the usual details about where a product was purchased or how they used it

These unsavory characters are paid to leave reviews, often about products they've never used. Sometimes that means leaving glowing reviews that are too good to be true. Other times, this means they get paid to write a mercilessly negative review about their clients' competitor. In any case, these reviews-marketers' way of trying to game the online reviews system-have become public enemy number-one in the world of consumer reviews.

Take department store chain Lord & Taylor, which was recently charged by the Federal Trade Commission for incentivizing consumers to give their products high ratings. In this case, the company sent consumers a dress and thousands of dollars in exchange for posting on Instagram a photo of themselves wearing the dress.

fake reviews

fake reviews

fake reviews

By law, companies are allowed to do this if the reviewer makes it clear that they were paid and given the dress by the company. This was not the case with the Lord & Taylor case.

2. The Competitor in Consumer's Clothing

How to spot them:

  • Reviews that are purely positive, without anything negative to say
  • Reviews that are particularly vicious, without anything positive to say
  • Product reviews that use the same language as competitors' advertisements

Ofttimes, competitors won't just pay others to place fake reviews-they'll do it themselves. They'll pretend to be a consumer of their competitor's product and rip into it with gusto. Because of the anonymity provided by online reviews, companies are hard-pressed to prove that these reviews are indeed from competitors, as seen in this complaint from one Amazon vendor, Southshore:

fake reviews

After failing to find a resolution through Amazon or his fellow vendors, Southshore laments:

"It sounds like the bad guys win and we just have to take it or get shut down. I would never stoop to that level against a competitor (leaving fake reviews), but that leaves me at a disadvantage if I play by the rules and cannot even defend myself."

3. The Disgruntled Ex-Employee

fake reviews

How to spot them:

  • Reviews that are unusually angry
  • Reviews that talk more about company leadership than about products
  • Reviews that reveal an in-depth knowledge about the company's inner workings

The scenario is common enough. An employee is fired or laid off. Fuming about his employment situation and how unfairly he was treated, the now-ex-employee wants to inflict damage on the former employer who shunned him.

Rather than take to social media to vent (which can get you in trouble if you signed a contract with your company forbidding this kind of disparagement), the disgruntled ex-employee masquerades as a consumer on review sites, poo-pooing their product every chance he gets.

As with the fake reviewers we've already discussed, companies have little recourse against disgruntled ex-employees pretending to be consumers, unless that disparagement clause was in place. They may suspect that a review is actually from "John Who Used to Work in Accounting," but it's nearly impossible to verify.

And even if they know the reviewer's true identity, it might be too risky to confront them online, according to Allison Green, workplace blogger on Inc.com:

"It can be frustrating when a fired employee is trash-talking your company, but your best bet here is probably to stay out of it and let it run its course."

4. The Angry Ex

fake reviews

How to spot them:

  • Reviews that are unusually angry
  • Reviews that attack company employees personally
  • Reviews that include little to no product details

Hell hath no fury like a spouse, partner, girlfriend, or boyfriend scorned. When relationships go awry, former lovers can turn to review sites to inflict damage on their once-loved one's professional life.

The result is unusually vitriolic reviews that very quickly turn away from the product or even the company and focus all of their firepower on individuals.

5. The Customer With Something to Hide

How to spot them:

  • Reviews where a disagreement occurs, the customer is 100% innocent, and the company is 100% guilty
  • Reviews where the account of a customer service flaw is obviously exaggerated

What makes these reviews unique is that they aren't from non-consumers pretending to be consumers. They usually come from actual consumers who have had actual experiences with a company's products and services. What makes them untrustworthy is the way in which the unhappy customer stretches the truth and minimizes their own faults.

For example, the customer might report that she walked into a store to return an item and that, without warning, the associate at the customer service desk screamed at her and told her to get out of the store. What she didn't divulge, conveniently, was that the item had been damaged while in her care and that, when the associate pointed that fact out, she became belligerent with the associate.

6. The Troll

How to spot them:

  • Reviews that sound like that bully who used to sit behind you high school
  • Reviewers who leave only negative reviews
  • Reviewers who respond to replies by personally attacking the replier

Trolls-people who just want to be demean other people online-are everywhere, and review sites are no exception. They might have actually used a product or they might not, but their goal is never to inform others about a product or company-it's all about making people feel bad.

Consider this reviewer, who just might be the Internet's foremost trolling reviewer. He trashes books that are widely considered to be masterpieces. He insults other reviewers with profanity-laced tirades. He leaves his reviews in verse and claims to be writing his own masterpiece (which will surely be better than the ones he's trashed). And he's done this over 276 times.

What he gets out of this exercise, no one can know for sure-except that he, like all trolls, hurts inside and wants the rest of the world to feel just as bad.

Whatever his reason, and the reasons of other trolls, no one thinks for a moment that they are actual, honest reviews. But they are a big distraction.

Spot the Fake Reviews, Benefit From the Real Ones

Yes, the Internet is crawling with fake reviews from trolls, unhappy ex-employees, and unscrupulous marketers. However, by learning how to sift out the real from the fake, you can still gain the insights you need to make smarter decisions.

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Written by Marcus Varner

Our goal, here at Best Company, is to provide you with honest, reliable information you need to find companies you can trust.

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