How to spot a fake review before you make an online purchase

PITTSBURGH — Erika Forney didn’t shop much online before the pandemic, but now, has she shifted her buying behavior to the web.

“Once the pandemic started, I didn’t really want to go out and go into the stores and worry about touching things other people touched,” said the nanny who lives in Allison Park.

Forney says now she relies heavily on online reviews before making a purchase.

It’s kind of a little weird to me when there’s a lot of good reviews and not as many bad ones. It makes me weary, she said. “And when there are a lot of bad reviews, I don’t want to buy it.”

Fake reviews on the rise

With so many more people shopping online, up 44-percent in 2020, according to Digital Commerce 360, consumers are also seeing an explosion in online reviews, but you can’t always trust what you read.

Chief Trust Officer at Trustpilot, an online review open forum, said during the pandemic, they’ve seen an increase in fake reviews, which they try to flag and remove.

“We’ve taken down 2.2 million fake reviews this year and that amounted to about 5% of the total reviews that we collected,” said Carolyn Jameson, CTO at Trustpilot. “It can be businesses leaving reviews about themselves or about competitors. It can also be consumers leaving reviews that aren’t really genuine.”

Fakespot, another website that flags fake reviews, estimates there are even more. Its analysis showed about 30% of product reviews on Amazon are unreliable; 50% of reviews at walmart.com; and 95% of reviews for Chinese no-name companies.

“It surprises me in a sense but it doesn’t because of the world we live in now,” said Forney, who says she also likes reviews when real pictures are posted, because it adds to the credibility.

Red Flags for fake reviews

Platforms like Trustpilot use analytic software to spot suspicious patterns.

“Things like the timing between posts, patterns around language, things that look strange or are repeated too often by the same IP address,” Jameson said.

Red flags you can look out for:

  • Reviews that are overly simple and lack detail.
  • Bad grammar and misspellings.
  • Lots of reviews posted in a short period of time, which can be a sign a retailer paid for reviews.

Whether they’re good or bad, studies show that reviews have an influence with consumers.

Do some detective work

Whenever making an online purchase, it’s always a good idea to do a little detective work and look at a few different sources for information. Compare reviews on different platforms like Trustpilot, Yelp! and the Better Business Bureau, if it’s a company.

Also, on Fakespot.com, you can post the URL of a review from sites like Amazon and Walmart, and it will analyze that and give you a rating.

Trustpilot also has a business transparency page to give you an idea of how a company will respond if you have a problem.

“What we actually like to see are businesses that when they make mistakes, they engage in the right way and fix the problem,” Jameson said.

If you do suspect a fake review, it’s a good idea to report it to the platform you’re using and to the Federal Trade Commission.