Should we trust online reviews? FTC explains how to handle fake reviews

FILE - In this April 17, 2019, file photo online customer reviews for a product are displayed on a computer in New York. Amazon has filed a lawsuit against administrators of more than 10,000 Facebook groups it accuses of coordinating fake reviews in exchange for money or free products. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant said in a statement Tuesday, July 19, 2022 the Facebook groups were set up to recruit people willing to post incentivized and misleading reviews across its stores in the U.S. the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File) (Jenny Kane)

When was the last time you checked out online reviews to decide whether to buy something? Or where to buy it?

Many potential buyers use reviews to see the honest opinions of other buyers before they fork over their hard-earned cash — but how do you know the reviews really are honest? Or even from real buyers?

The Federal Trade Commission pointed out that companies rely on reviews to stand out from the pack, but some will write or use fake reviews — about both how great their thing is, and how terrible their competitor is. In fact, some people have turned fake review writing into an online business by offering to write positive reviews.

So can’t somebody do something? The short answer is: Yes.

The websites and platforms (think Google, Amazon, Walmart, Yelp…among many others) where those reviews appear are well aware of the problem. Some of them do more than others to filter out the suspicious reviews, as well as finding, labeling, suspending, or delisting the companies or people who acquire those reviews.

But do a quick search and you’ll see how easy it is to buy reviews. Clearly, the problem isn’t solved, and some websites and platforms need to do a much better job, the FTC said.

So what can the FTC do? It’s bringing cases (like the recent Roomster case) where it finds businesses abusing the public trust. And it said it will keep doing that, plus, among other things, share guidance for businesses on dealing with reviews and advice for consumers on how to watch for fakes.

And here’s what you can do: if you suspect you’ve run across a fake review, please report it to the website or platform it shows up on.

The FTC has gathered a list of how to report to some major platforms that feature reviews, both for consumers and for business owners. Then, if you get no answer from the platform, or no action to fix the problem, please tell the FTC: Follow the reporting path for whatever product or service you were looking at, and choose “Other” if you don’t see the path. Just be sure to put “fake review” in the comments field.