How to Spot Fake Reviews

Have you ever wonder how to Spot Fake Reviews?  I hope I can help you with this post!

This week, I have some good news for you. You may have heard it before, but stay with me on this.

Bitter chocolate may taste bad, but it’s good for your health.

Not only is it good for your health, it can help you lose weight. A team of German researchers found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day.

How do I know it’s true? I checked. It had scientific backing. It was not backed by the chocolate industry but by Louisiana State University. The names of some eminent scientists were linked to it, including Dr. Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. It contained compelling information such as:

“The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate,” Moore said in the news release. “When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.”

It was formally presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas, Texas, and published by the Institute of Diet and Health, not to mention the International Archives of Medicine.

The story, including its promotional videoclips, was then picked up by the mainstream media across 20 countries: CBS News, the Huffington Post, Bild, Europe’s largest circulation newspaper, Cosmopolitan magazine, the Daily Mail…

chocolat

So that’s it. Job done. Eat as much chocolate as you like. It’s not just good for you, you’ll lose weight.

Except — it’s not, and you won’t.

The study was real, but the results and the ensuing media choc-fest were fake. The Institute of Diet and Health does not exist; the International Archives of Medicine charged $600 to publish the “study” without querying the provenance of the research; the media picked it up and ran the story without question.

The whole episode was a hoax, perpetrated by a scientist who wanted to make three points:

  • Fake news is easy to spread.
  • Fake reviews follow fake news as night follows day.
  • Journalism is based on selling papers, not on tracking the truth.

This was an elaborate hoax, designed for the purpose of proving points about sloppy scientific research and sloppy journalism. How could anyone have known it was fake, until the perpetrator held his hands up?

Easily.

There were several points at which it could — and should — have been discovered. It’s not rocket science. Had…

  • anyone bothered to search for Dr. Johannes Bohannon (who does not exist — the author was John Bohannon)
  • anyone searched for the Institute of Diet and Health (which was entirely fictitious)
  • anyone thought to ask where the peer-reviewed results were (there weren’t any)
  • reporters asked scientific or nutritional scientists for their views on the study (the results of which were deliberately flawed)
  • scientists, journalists or readers given even a glance at the “promotional videos” or images (all of which were, at least, “tongue in cheek”)

… they would instantly have known that the story was, at best, flawed, and at worst had no basis in reality.

But they didn’t ask questions. They didn’t do any searches. They used vaguely pornographic images of women eating chocolate. They never saw the tongue in cheek ballad.

Millions of people were fooled. Why?

Partly because they wanted to be. Anyone who needs to lose weight and loves chocolate — and who of us doesn’t? — would be delighted at this story.

Dig deeper? Why would they? They were hearing news they wanted to hear.

In my article “Truth About Reviews”, we looked at why fake reviews matter. People — we — are desperate for reliable information. We rely on the media to check its sources. We rely on scientists to give us unbiased, properly reviewed information.

But often, we don’t get it.

How to tell the difference between truth and fake? And what to do when we do discover illegal practices?

This article will show you how to spot a fake review, how to ignore all the noise, and, most importantly, how to do your own simple digging to figure it out for yourself.

We can learn a lot from the chocolate story. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not rocket science — and there are ways of helping put an end to the fakery.

Let’s deal with the “smaller” products first.

Spot ’em — Fake Product Reviews

The bad news is that human beings are lousy at identifying deceptive reviews. In a test of 800 reviews of Chicago hotels… researchers discovered an intriguing correspondence between the linguistic structure of deceptive reviews and fiction writing.Cornell University(2)

In a previous post we saw how companies like Amazon, TripAdvisor, and Yelp depend on hundreds of thousands of consumer reviews that collectively point you to “the best of whatever.”

Reviews are core to the business model of the companies that aggregate the reviews.  They work hard to minimize fake reviews because it is  “good business” to prevent customer disappointment due to incorrect information.

Faith in the reviews is paramount. A threat to the credibility of its reviews is a threat to the business itself.

There are honest reviews as well as fake ones, of course. But there’s no central body of authority to rely on when it comes to affiliate marketing, no single agency to tell you who’s good and who’s bad.

In order for sites that rely on reviews to retain their credibility, many have started making efforts to crack down on paid for and fake reviews(3). But there needs to be “ample evidence.”

And often, that’s not easy to track.

So you have to do “due diligence” for yourself, whether you’re buying a book, a dishwasher, a hotel room or a Ferrari.

Here are some pointers to watch out for.

1. Fight technology with technology: You know the saying: “It takes one to know one”? A good way to assess whether a review is computer-generated is to use another computer.

Or in this case, a computer program.

Fakespot is an online tool that helps you work out which are the trustworthy reviews and which are not on both Amazon and Yelp. Simply paste a review’s URL into Fakespot’s search engine and wait. The results are fascinating.

This random example, which scored 4.5 stars on Amazon, was adjusted to 1 after analysis.

fakespot

It may not always be totally accurate, but it’s a good place to start.

ReviewSkeptic is a similar piece of software dealing specifically with hotel reviews. It claims to be able to pick out fake hotel reviews with 90% accuracy.

2. Check the reviewer’s profile: Most sites ask users to register an account before leaving a review. Click on the username to see past reviews. Most “real” people buy a wide range of products from companies like Amazon, and so will have a wide range of reviews.

Look for patterns — is this person only reviewing one type of product, or one company? Is she leaving only very positive — or negative — feedback?

3. Compensation: Is this review paid? Did the reviewer receive the product in return for a review? If so, it’s not necessarily fake — but it may be biased.

Also, the reviewer has a legal obligation to report that “gift.” If you don’t see it, ASK whether they are affiliates for the product. Don’t be shy – ask it in the comments. No answer? Ignore it. Or, if your comment gets deleted, report that in RipOff Report. Don’t assume or state anything as “fact” but you can say that “I asked this reviewer of ABC Product whether they were an affiliate or otherwise receiving compensation for reviews. They deleted my question, twice. I wasn’t nasty or insulting – the review just didn’t feel kosher to me, so I asked. The deletion, in my opinion, speaks louder than the review.

4. Review Quality: Reviews that rely, as many do, on individuals being paid small amounts of money to write as many as possible, will be short and non-specific. The aim here is to bump the item into the 5 star category quickly by posting as many “excellent” reviews as possible. So the author needs to be able to copy and paste a large number in a short time.

Look for words like “great product,” “wonderful service” or “can’t be beaten.”

5. Lack of detail: Similarly, the researchers from Cornell University found that reviewers of hotel rooms, for example, did not talk about the specifics of the hotel at all. They couldn’t — they had never been there. So they’d talk instead of the reason they were there.

“Spent a wonderful weekend here with the family”; “will always use this hotel for future business trips” are the kinds of things you’re looking for.

Sites like Expedia have taken steps to ensure that reviews are left by bona fide travelers. It marks those reviews “Verified.” Check with whichever website you’re booking through whether their reviews are, too.

6. Lack of experience: Similarly for physical items, if the reviewer has never had it, the explanation of what’s good and bad about it — or even how to use it — will be limited. If a review sounds more like a product manual than a real-life experience — it probably is.

On Amazon, look for reviews marked “Verified Purchase” for reviews by people who have bought the product.

7. Use of language: Some unscrupulous companies will provide templates for their “reviewers” to make it easier for quick copy and pasting. If you see the same or similar words, phrases and even diagrams or comparison charts recycled in different reviews, beware.

Watch for over-the-top words, too: “best thing ever!” and equally “worst thing ever!” without any explanation or balance is likely to be fake.

8. Blinding with science: fake reviews for health products particularly will often use a long list of “scientific facts.” Think back to the chocolate article: “Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria.”

9. When haters start to love: One of the most common forms of fake review tactics is for the reviewer to be adamant that they hated a product but were given one, for example, as a gift and — hey presto! — they suddenly discovered it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

This kind of review is often over-the-top enthusiastic. Look for excessive use of exclamation points or question marks…

“I was given different cleansers over the years. I didn’t like the first few due to a combo of the scents and the struggle I had trying to use them. When I got this one I wasn’t in love with the scent but I dealt with it. I tried to get through the whole pot and lo and behold I love it!!!!! The scent really grew on me and it hasn’t broken me out!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

10. Is the review “all or nothing”?: Fake reviews tend to be either 1 star, or 5. There’s rarely an in-between. Make sure you check reviews at 2, 3 and 4 stars too — real reviews tend to be more moderate.

Spot ’em — Fake Trade Reviews

Moving into a different sector, if a product or service is not from a provider you already know and trust, you will need to conduct additional due diligence before even looking at the product itself.

“Making money,” along with pain, illness, weight loss, diet and some other categories are where you’ll find vulnerable consumers, and that’s where you’ll also find the most dishonest affiliates. The worst view these consumers as “suckers,” nothing more.

These types of people used to take advantage of people through direct mail, offline. They have all moved online, along with hundreds of thousands of others who either have no conscience or who re-draw the “good-bad line.”

They have turned to the dark side of affiliate marketing to make a buck at the “sucker’s” expense.

Here are some pointers to calling out the dodgy players in this part of the marketing world.

  1. Research the trader: Don’t rush into buying a product because it sounds good. No marketing department writes about their product to make it sound bad. Take time to investigate the company first.
  2. Check the domain name on whois.com. Make sure the owner’s full address and contact details are listed. If not — beware.
  3. Are the business a member of a trade body? For example, is that package tour with such great reviews protected by the Air Traffic Organizer’s Licence (ATOL)?
  4. Check approved provider status: Are companies selling financial products on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (USA) or Financial Conduct Authority (UK) register of approved providers?
  5. Security: If you’re buying online, is the website secure? Look for “https” in the URL and a green padlock in the address bar.
  6. Products: Once you start looking at products the company is selling, the same issues apply as to the “products” group above.

 

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