How to avoid falling for fake online product reviews

Researcher: About 30% of reviews on Amazon are fraudulent

By Lauren Verno - Consumer investigative reporter, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Have you ever bought that 5-star rated item online only to find out it didn’t work? Fake reviews are taking over the internet -- including Amazon.

Everyone and anyone can be writing and posting these fake reviews because they get something in return. We’ve uncovered that companies can reach out through social media, offering free stuff, or in some cases money, for a 5-star review -- which can be frustrating and unethical, but also illegal.

“The sellers are getting screwed over, the cheaters are winning, and it makes me sad,” said Tommy Noonan, founder of ReviewMeta.com.

Finding fake reviews has literally become Noonan's life. He started ReviewMeta after an incident in college that left him with some concerns.

“My roommate used a supplement, he was into body building. He paid $60 and he used a supplement, that gave him a case of the runs,” Noonan explained to us.

Fast forward to now, he says ReviewMeta has processed more than 200 million Amazon reviews and found 11.3 percent of them to be untrustworthy.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s such a competitive atmosphere on Amazon that actually have quality products will kind of seed their reviews with fake ones, so that they can start generating sales so they can get some real reviews,” warned Noonan.  

A similar fake review-spotting website called FakeSpot was founded by Saoud Khalifah. He estimates almost 30 percent of reviews on Amazon are fake.

CHECK AN ONLINE PRODUCT REVIEW
ReviewMeta | FakeSpot

"The way the internet has been from origin, it’s a free-for-all, so if people want to write free reviews they’re going to do it. And with the money to be made, I'm not shocked there are so many,” Khalifah told us.

The website uses an algorithm that combines how many reviews have been removed, how many errors, and then combine it all into an overall grade. And that’s not to say the product is actually a bad product, just that the reviews cannot be trusted.

Electronics are the most common type of product with fake reviews -- hands down. So, with News4Jax Anchor Tarik Minor, we checked on car chargers and demonstrated how easy it is to check reviews to spot the fakes.

We found a car charger with 4 stars on Amazon for $12.99 with Prime and then copied and pasted the URL using the FakeSpot website. We found Amazon had removed more than 1400 fake reviews from just that one product. 

Amazon is fighting back – filing more than 1,000 lawsuits to stop the fake review writers and posters saying, “We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”

According to Noonan and Khalifah, before you buy a product online based on reviews:

  • Check to make sure the reviews are verified.
  • Be extra careful with unknown brands.
  • Watch out for a lot of reviews posted in a close time frame.
  • Be wary of repetition. Multiple reviews containing similar language or phrases are a red flag.
  • Look for mistakes in spelling and grammar. 
     

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