Aug 1, 2022 - Economy & Business

How to spot a fake online review

Illustrated collage of a hand holding a magnifying glass examining a rating star system.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Readers asked for tips on spotting fake reviews online after our story on this fairly widespread problem ran about a week ago.

Why it matters: Turns out that spotting a fake review online while you're shopping or trying to find services, like a doctor or a dog-sitter, is harder than you'd think. Borderline impossible.

What to know: There are things you can do.

  1. Consider the source: Be very skeptical of reviews on a brand's website, where they've likely curated the responses, said Jenny Gyllander, the founder of a startup that hosts independent product reviews. So if you're at BrandX.com and most people love Brand X, yeah, that doesn't mean a whole lot.
  2. Check the dates: If there's a cluster of positive reviews posted in a relatively short amount of time, that's a sign something shady is going on. Maybe a Facebook campaign promising "reviewers" free stuff if they post a rating.
  3. 5 stars, red flag: If a business has all five-star reviews, or if a five-star review directly follows a negative review, that's a bad sign, said Kay Dean, who investigated fraud cases for the U.S. Department of Education and runs FakeReviewWatch.
  4. 1 star, not ideal either: "Most fake reviews are at extremes," said Davide Proserpio, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business who has researched the topic. Brands will pay for five-star ratings for themselves, or one-star ratings to trash their competitors.
  5. Check the profile: It's not a good sign if a reviewer has only written one review, given only positive reviews, uses a stock image as a profile pic, or — and this is a big no — has a geographically diverse pattern of reviews. Most people review services in the area where they live, Dean said.
  6. Go old school: Dean says it's just not simple to suss out fakes. "I recommend sticking to the tried and true method of getting your business recommendations from REAL friends and relatives, not virtual people," she wrote in an email.

What's next: Proserpio says that regulatory agencies are taking a closer look at fake reviews online.

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