Fake reviews can mislead shoppers; try verified BBB Reviews instead

By Robb Hicken/ chief storyteller

Better Business Bureau advises consumers to be skeptical when reading online business, product and service reviews.

Cornell University reports many reviews are written by professional writers or employees paid to put a positive spin on a review or to post bad reviews about competitors. Research states humans have a hard time distinguishing between authentic and fake reviews.

The Internet makes it easy to research products and services before we buy. But sometimes reviews can give buyers a false sense of security about the product or service they’re looking for. You need to take time to understand what you’re buying and whom you’re buying from before you place an order.

Fake reviews may include vague or awkward phrasing or testimonials that seem too enthusiastic to be believable. Some reviews may be identical or nearly so.

A few online retailers have policies that ban reviews by people who have a financial stake in the company or product reviewed. Web sites should explain policies on reviews. If the product is widely available, it may be found on other online reviews and could be compared with those on the company’s website.

BBB Business Reviews, by contrast, are verified by BBB staff and include details of any complaints against a company and show how the company responds to complaints. Companies are asked to provide basic information about their businesses. The BBB assists businesses and consumers in resolving their disputes, providing mediation and arbitration.

Look for red flags:

  • Look at the reviewer’s name. If it has several numbers at the end, it may be a sign of robotic review-writing software. If the name resembles a business or product name, someone being paid for reviews could write it.
  • Research reviewers name. While you have the name in mind, check to see whether the same reviewer has written reviews of other products in the same category. Try plugging the reviewer’s name or nickname into a search engine to check for repeat reviews.
  • Check reviewer’s profile. On some sites you can click on a reviewer’s name to see a profile and previous reviews.
  • Check the adjectives. If a review is loaded with effusive, positive writing with lots of exclamation points, it’s probably a fake review. Real people seldom gush over products, and they often share the cons as well as the pros of their experience.
  • Beware of perfection in writing. If the review sounds like an ad, it probably is.
  • Watch out for too many five-star ratings. Businesses seldom please everyone all of the time.
  • Look for bad grammar or misused words. These could be signs that the reviews have been outsourced to a country where English is not the native language or that a reviewer is writing lots of reviews without checking spelling or grammar.
  • Look for the same or similar wording in reviews. A paid reviewer may copy and paste wording from one review to another to save time. You can copy the review into a search engine to see if the same phrases are used elsewhere.
  • Read plenty of reviews. Don’t rely only on reviews on a company’s own website. See what people are saying elsewhere online.



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