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How to Spot a Fake Review

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Back in college, I used to use Epinions a lot. I would leave reviews of various products that I used, earn a little extra money from those reviews, and call it a day. I didn’t buy much back then so I didn’t actually read too many of the reviews. What I didn’t know, and perhaps it wasn’t as prevalent back then, was that some reviewers were being paid to write positively about certain products. It’s pretty common and, knowing what I know now, it should be expected.

So when the NY Times’ David Streitfeld took a look at the underground economy of paid positive reviews I wasn’t too surprised. Any system that is trusted will be gamed. If people use TripAdvisor to research places to eat in a city, something I do frequently now, restaurants will find ways to get their spot listed first, second, or third.

So how can you spot a fake review? Unfortunately, it’s difficult but with some technology, there are a few warning signs:

  • A focus on who they were with
  • Greater use of first person singular – “I” and “me”
  • Direct mention of the product – the hotel’s full name, the resort’s full name
  • Lots of adverbs like “very” and “really”
  • High verb use
  • Exclamation points and positive emotions

Whenever I look at reviews, I always look at the reviewer. Many sites now have profiles of the reviewer so you can see where else they stayed, what else they said, and generally how positive or negative they may be. Genuine or not, those will give me a better understand of how this person is and adds color to the review.

I also throw out any super positive and any super negative reviews. The super positive always make me hesitant because, let’s be honest, very few experiences are absolutely perfect. Also, there’s a bit of a negative bias online. People generally go online because they have an axe to grind, which is why I discount negative reviews unless they are specific to something that happened. Also, remember that competitors can get as much out of posting a fake negative review for the enemy as a positive review for themselves.

Do you have any tips for spotting fake reviews?

{ 11 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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11 Responses to “How to Spot a Fake Review”

  1. Rob says:

    Great article, i don’t know if you have seen it, but the Advertising Standards Authority started investigating TripAdviser, over allegations of endemic Astroturfing, Basically fake reviews. It slightly easier in the UK to spot a fake review just look for American English, if you’re on a UK site & the review is written in American English then this is a dead giveaway.

    The other way is to put a sample of the review into in a search engine in quote for example “review text” if this comes back with 100’s of result then it probably fake. Fake reviewer tend to use similar content across many sites.

    • Scott says:

      What about Americans staying at UK hotels? They have to write reviews in “proper” English? ;-)

  2. Echo says:

    I used to work in the hotel industry and TripAdvisor and Expedia are very good at spotting fake reviews. If they catch you posting fake reviews to boost your own hotels’ ratings then they will drop you from the program. Now they have a “management response” where the GM can respond to any positive or negative review to give their side of the story.

    If you’re looking through the reviews to find a good place to stay, look for hotels that have a lot of reviews, and check the most recent reviews to see if the good experiences are still holding up. Often times hotel’s will get great reviews when they open (or after a reno), and then things go down hill.

  3. Steph says:

    I’ve been fooled by the fake reviews on Tripadvisor myself. They are very hard to spot and I’ve actually quit using the website myself. We had a negative experience at a hotel we stayed at, I posted a negative review and management falsely reported it and had it removed. I removed some of the details, she reported it again and it was removed for not enough details. So I reviewed a 3rd time, to which she responded with lies and said I physically threatened her and her staff trying to destroy my credibility.

    The staff at Tripadvisor was no help. I figure most people won’t follow up with as much persistance as I had, so most of the hotel’s negative reviews were removed and no one ever followed up. I know not all hotel management goes to this extreme, but it ruined tripadvisor for me. Travelocity, as well as some of the other 3rd party booking websites, require a booking to post a review, which to me offers a little more reassurance that the review is genuine.

  4. Olusola says:

    I actually depend on a lot of reviews from Amazon and tripadvisor before making purchases. On Amazon, I find that I get more meat from the 4-star and 2-star reviews.

    With tripadvisor, I check how the hotel ranks on other sights like yahoo and hotel.com to see if there’s a matching trend or concensus. More often than not, there will be a reviewer who is informative and objective.

  5. Danish Kem says:

    Rob,

    I like the tip in your second paragraph. Nice.

  6. DonC says:

    I too, like to read the product reviews before buying. After reading the most ‘popular’ or most ‘helpful’ review, I tend to be more interested in the negative review to see if there are inherent or other flaws int he product. I also like it when there are ‘hundreds’ of reviews which will tend to average out the BS or paid reviews. If there are several bad reviews complaining about the same issue, I usually stay away.

  7. Shirley says:

    I do read reviews for products because I do most of my shopping online. I skim through the ‘best thing since sliced bread’ and ‘worst junk ever’ reviews and look for specific comments about attributes (or lack of) for the item in question. So far this has served me well.

  8. Wilma says:

    The online product reviews are great but can confuse you more. I like going to You Tube for unboxings. Just the other day I watched a Nikon camera unboxing and tour. Well done and answered all my questions. I don’t think I’ll buy that camera but he gave me a good idea of what I do want. I always research my future purchases to death before I open my wallet. Still spotting fake reviews is hard.

  9. BigGuy says:

    Some Amazon book reviews, especially for business self-help books advertised on the radio, are from obvious aliases. When the reviewers first and last names begin with the same letter, that’s a sign — there really aren’t that many people named Alan Able or Ben Benson or Debby Dallas. Also, many of the reviewers of the business books have the same names as the characters from 1960′s to 1980′s situation comedies. Once in while, there are a whole series of reviews from people named the same as all the villains on Colombo, but of course, that’s just a coincidence — NOT.

  10. Bhavesh says:

    Can you tell me about some Research Papers that will help me to find some more information about this topic. I am researching on the same topic and I need some papers so as to study some more facts about this. Your work is appreciable and good to read.


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