How To Spot Fake Online Reviews
The telltale signs that review is a fake — and how you can make sure you’re finding the most accurate reviews online.
I regularly promote the customer reviews of my Wise ChoicesTM on my social media platforms. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the fake ones — not just negative ones, but fake positive ones, too.
Recently, I was about to promote a positive Google review posted for one of my Wise ChoicesTM. When I gave that Wise Choice’s owner the heads-up, she told me she had no clue who the reviewer was — no record of the reviewer ever hiring her company’s services. I discovered the review was a fake, written under a ghost name and profile pic. The source was untraceable: red flag number one. The source had also written reviews for services all over the country during time periods so close together — sometimes within HOURS of each other — the source would’ve had to clone itself in order to receive those services.
We get why someone would write a fake negative review: obviously, to sabotage the business’s reputation. But why would someone in another part of the country make a fake profile and write a fake positive review for a company or service they never used?
Here’s why: they’re hoping that company is just as crooked as they are. They’re trying to attract that business’s attention to see if it will reach out to them and offer to pay them to continue writing fake positive reviews. The reviews would instantly boost the company’s ratings and improve its online engagement algorithm (especially if it’s a fake Google review). If the company doesn’t bite, so what? They’ll try someone else.
Or THIS: the fake positive review is a lure to get the business owner to contact the source and start a dialogue. In the course of that dialogue, the anonymous source who wrote the review sends the business owner a link — maybe to establish a payment method for more reviews or to showcase the source’s website (which will be fake). The business owner clicks on the link, provides the payment method — now his/her payment card information is stolen. Or the anonymous source infects the business owner’s computer or device with malware or spyware via the link.
Either way, it is illegal to write fake negative or positive reviews. Both federal and state laws consider them “deceptive trade practices.” Sources who write them put themselves in considerable legal jeopardy, assuming the authorities can trace those sources.
“When you use online reviews to help you make decisions, it pays to take some time and think critically about the source of the information,” said Alvaro Puig, consumer education specialist for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “For years, our main piece of advice on using reviews has been to look at a variety of sources.”
If it’s a Google review, the first thing I do is click on the author’s profile. Does the author use a personal profile pic or is it some generic image? A generic, vague image is a sign of a fake review writer.
I check the author’s bio and review history. If I cannot trace the author’s place of origin or contact information — and if the author’s history reveals an inordinate amount of reviews in separate parts of the country within a very short time span — the reviews are fake.
The FTC offered these suggestions to spot fake online reviews:
- Check how recent the reviews are and watch for a burst of reviews over a short period of time. That can sometimes mean the reviews are fake.
- Check if the reviewer has written other reviews. If so, read those to get a better sense of how much to trust that reviewer. But if it seems that the reviewer has created an account just to write one review for one product, that review may be fake.
- Don’t assume that, just by looking, you can spot the difference between a real review and a fake one. Some reviews may look suspicious, and some may look real, but it can often be nearly impossible to tell for sure. For example, you already know to watch out for reviews that seem too positive to be real, but some fake positive reviews give less than the highest possible rating in order to seem more credible.
- Remember that fake reviews are not always positive. Sometimes, a company might post fake negative reviews to harm a competitor.
You should know this, too: your right to write an online review — positive or negative — is protected not under the First Amendment, but under specific federal statutes and state laws. But with that right comes responsibility — and legal consequences if your review is neither truthful nor accurate.
I write about that in-depth and offer some great tips for writing responsible reviews that actually get action in this Wise Advice column.
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