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How to Tell if a Review is Fake

by on August 01, 2014
in Tips & How-Tos, Travel & Entertainment, Travel, Dining & Entertainment, Shopping, Tech 101 :: 26 comments

It’s common practice for people to check out what other consumers have written online before they make a major purchase, download an app or buy something on Amazon.

What you may not realize is at lot of consumer reviews on the Internet are bogus. In fact, 20 percent of Yelp reviews are fake, according to a Havard Business School study published last fall. And Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago, puts the overall number of fake reviews closer to 30 percent.

Who’s writing fake reviews on Amazon and other sites? It could be marketers or retailers, authors using pseudonyms, customers who get a deal for leaving positive feedback or services that exist solely for the purpose of writing them.

Last year, as part of its crackdown on companies writing fake reviews, the New York Attorney General’s office found job postings on sites like Craigslist.com, Freelancer.com and oDesk.com to hire people to write fake reviews, including this post from a New York City spa.

We need a person that can post multiple positive reviews on major REVIEW sites.  Example:  Google Maps, Yelp, CitySearch.  Must be from different IP addresses… So you must be able to have multiple IPs.  The reviews will be only few sentences long.  Need to have some understanding on how Yelp filters works.  Previous experience is a plus…just apply --)we are a marketing company.”

It’s a duplicitous practice, but there are some clues to help determine if a review is concocted. According to researchers at Cornell University who have developed an automated algorithm to detect them. You can test it out on a site they developed called Review Skeptic. When you cut-and-paste review text into the site, you'll get a verdict on whether it's real or fake. The algorithm is based on the fact that fake reviews tend to include several features:

  • A lot of superlatives and not much description. Phrases like “a must-read” and “life-changing” are giveaways.
  • References to other people such as “my family” or “my husband.” Keep in mind, if the person writing the review is making it up, the story tends to stray farther away from the actual product.
  • More frequent use of the first-person singular. Fictitious assessments tend to include the words “me” and “I” more often, as if to make the review seem more credible.
  • Exclamation points and positive emotion. Truthful reviews use other kinds of punctuation, including the dollar sign.

We'd also add to the list:

  • People who have written only one review on the site
  • People who write only five-star reviews
  • Reviews that sound like a marketing brochure from the company or use the full official name of the product

For more ideas, check out this Consumerist story, which has more than 30 reader-generated tips on how to ferret out worthless reviews, such as the good advice to only consider reviews that leave two to four stars in a five-star system. Or, my personal favorite: “Even if they're not fakesters, anyone who writes in ALL CAPS is an idiot and should be ignored.”

Ultimately, before being swayed by any isolated review, peruse a slew of them and give the most credence to those that are balanced and reflect that the writer can actually describe using the product.

Updated on 8/1/2014 with new data, resources and  news.

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Discussion loading

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I've seen some of these.

From Will on September 04, 2012 :: 1:31 pm

The more obvious “reviews” on blogs usually repeat what’s in the marketing brochure, nearly verbatim.
one easy way to spot these is visit the manufacturer’s website and read their spiel.

On another note, you can get the opposite too.
people who get rewarded for negative reviews of a product or service.

Also note some do this just to be a troll, some because they are “fanboys” and others that are indeed compensated somehow. (i.e. some sites won’t post a negative review because they don’t want to lose that company as an advertiser.)

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Bad food!!

From Ronald on September 04, 2012 :: 3:36 pm

Possibly my biggest problem is with the raving
reviews referring to restaurants.  It has gotten to the point of not reading any, because one realized that most are fakes.  I also did get stuck ONCE. A restaurant opened close to my home. I checked the reviews. All glowing - best in the city - wonderful atmosphere - on and on. We tried it out. Calling it very bad would be giving it high praise.  I placed my own review and almost immediately was attacked by at least twenty shills including the owner. Guess what?
The place closed after one year and could not even make payroll.  These fake reviews only work for a limited time.  I have been told that in my city there are three companies dedicated to writing fake reviews.  Why are they notin jail??

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Urgh

From Sasha Rambles on September 04, 2012 :: 4:47 pm

This drives me bananas. For anything important, the only reviews I trust are from Consumer Reports (and no, I’m not shilling for them wink. Other than that, I pretty much ignore testimonials, or at least look for specific comments, like “feature x did/didn’t work very well, and decide if that matters to me.

And I have an added beef now - as an app developer working on my first offering to the App Store, I’ll be looking for reputable reviewers. There is a LOT of schlock out there! My first rule of thumb -> I won’t pay for a review. And I won’t trust one that’s been paid for, either smile

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Reviews serve two ways

From Cassie on September 04, 2012 :: 5:43 pm

Look there is perspective but all advice must be taken with a grain of salt .....some are imposed by the very companies themselves as marketing or by competitors trying to slander a business. Yet, sometimes they may honestly speak of a deficit of a real experience that may be unique showing that well sometimes like people businesses are off the kilter in performance. I’ve worked with this mind set in business I want to hear about problems why it is a tool to understand where my operations of responsibility is failing and know where to seek improve the consumers expectations and this varies each has their own “Opinion” we can’t please all but we can try to seek excellence perfections well only God can do. So for the time being compare various reviews and from that weight the best options that suit your needs at that given time and your needs. Remember what is best for you may not follow suit for the next person.

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Please punctuate.

From Eliz Calderon on September 06, 2012 :: 11:35 pm

It was very hard to understand your comments.  You need to use more punctuation.

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What did you mean?

From Jenny Gould Gibbs Mertes on August 18, 2014 :: 10:24 pm

I suggest you edit your review, using proper punctuation, so it can be understood. Maybe English isn’t your first language?

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Poop is poop!

From Walter Boomsma on September 04, 2012 :: 6:00 pm

The ultimate topic here is critical thinking… I once knew a woman who insisted “it was on Geraldo; it must be true.” A review that reflects no analysis or thought is not credible whether positive or negative. I’ve seen similar problems with one person who—for some reason—clearly hates a company or product and they will make all sorts of accusations or claims, including accusing the company of hiring reviewers.

I do scan reviews—and write some myself. But ultimately there’s no substitute for good ole critical thinking!

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Review of Fast Shipping?

From Mea on September 04, 2012 :: 9:00 pm

I can’t stand the reviews of products on Amazon that are obviously by people who just opened the box, because they say things like, “I just got this, and WOW, it came really fast.” Because how fast it comes to someone’s house has SO much to do with how it performs. Save the fast shipping comments for eBay seller comments!

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Why not do it by the numbers?

From Jeffrey Deutsch on September 04, 2012 :: 10:37 pm

Hello,

At least wrt the apps in Google Play, I’ve had good results with my system: Focus on the numbers!

Specifically, I (tend to) restrict my apps to those with:

(1) A clear majority of all their ratings in the five-star category,

(2) At least 75% of all their ratings in the five- and four-star categories and

(3) An average rating of >= 4.00 stars. (And if it says 4.0, yes I will whip out the ol’ calculator!)

Studies show that while people often *think* they can figure out how much they’ll like something from knowing the objective facts about it, more commonly the best predictive information for whether you’ll like it is whether or not people similar to you already like it.

PS: Yes, I like crunching numbers! =|8-}/2

PPS: Wrt shipping, IME it’s like pizza delivery - sellers tend to under-promise and over-deliver. Shippers figure - and rightly so - that you’ll be a lot happier with, say, getting your items four days after ordering if you were told it would take five or six days. Same with pizzas - if they give you an estimate of 45 minutes that will likely make you happier with, say, a 35- or 40-minute delivery.

What do you think?

Jeff Deutsch

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Changing up how and why we share reviews

From Rob Morelli on September 05, 2012 :: 9:43 am

The fake review problem significantly diminishes the value of these sites.  At Tout’d we believe that there needs to be some layer of accountability for reviews to be trusted.  There is also a motivation problem… some people who post on Yelp/TripAdvisor/Amazon (when not fake) often do so out of some recent experience that compels them to tell the world about it.  This is usually “loved it” or “hated it”.  Tout’d (http://www.toutd.com) provides for social accountability as you only get reviews from friends or friends of friends.  You also get recommendations that are in response to a friend’s request for a recommendation.  So the motivation for posting a review on Tout’d is to help rather then tell the world you hated something.  This makes reviews more valuable, trustworthy, and actionable.  Check it out… tell me what you think about it.  I am a co-founder.  -Rob

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Grain of salt

From Julie Isham 536 on September 05, 2012 :: 5:17 pm

I have always taken reviews with a grain of salt. If you don’t - buyer beware.

I also leave reviews. If it helps someone, great, if not, at least I have left my own opinion.

But, I usually only leave really good or really bad reviews - if it’s just ok (like a 3) - why should I waste my time!

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Large numbers help!

From Jeffrey Deutsch on September 07, 2012 :: 11:48 am

An extra note:

The numbers get much more credible if they’re large. With maybe just a few dozen or even a hundred or so ratings, that set could be dominated by “sock puppets” - paid reviewers for one side or another. Or even maybe just a few people who had the wrong thing for lunch or are just plain ecstatic or ticked off at the company.

With thousands let alone tens of thousands of ratings, it’s another story entirely. The law of large numbers works in your favor here.

Jeff Deutsch (numbers geek!)

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Fake Posts

From Keith Weinberg on September 11, 2012 :: 11:08 am

I occasionally review purchases I made online, and try to be fair- but, to be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a 5/5 product, unless it’s a screwdriver or hammer. “Works as advertised” rates a 4, at best. Unfortunately, “works as advertised” and “Gets the job done reliably”, in the business world on a performance evaluation loses people promotions. Just something to think about…

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Very good point about 4 vs. 5 star ratings

From Jeffrey Deutsch on September 12, 2012 :: 11:36 am

Hi Keith,

I agree with you - I normally rate things (and experiences!) 4 stars out of 5 if they worked as advertised yet didn’t go well above the call of duty…and many times the opportunity for heroism doesn’t come up.

Like it or lump it, many people out there feel that only 5 stars out of 5 will do for good performance, so if the majority or even bulk of the ratings are 4 stars or fewer, in my estimation you’re taking a greater risk that the item is not so hot.

Of course, if you disagree with me on that, feel free to just take my suggestions above and substitute “4 stars” for “5 stars” and maybe “3 stars” for “4 stars”.

Have a great rest of your day!

Jeff Deutsch

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What is a fake review?

From Rick Carufel on September 14, 2012 :: 1:06 pm

Reviews have always been biased long before the internet.  It has been a racket controlled by publishers since the beginning.  What’s the difference if you pay someone $5 on fiverr for a review of your new ebook or a publisher delivers a few hard bound books to a reviewer over an expensive lunch the publisher is buying?  Publisher are the source of the myth that reviewers should be the only professionals on the planet that shouldn’t get paid for their work.  What sense does that make? 

Amazon is the worst for bogus reviews.  Not only for books but for the thousands of other items they sell. 

This whole thing with “fake” reviews is an attempt by traditional publishers and their supporters to discredit any reviews that they don’t control.
Read the preview for a book before you buy. judge for yourself from that if you want to buy the book or not. If the book has no preview or excerpt move on to one that does.  But don’t get embroiled in a controversy that is being whipped up by parties who all have vested interests of what weight reviews carry depending on the source and whether or not it supports their position.

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One more thing.

From Rick Carufel on September 14, 2012 :: 1:13 pm

You can’t tell if a review is fake.  You can assume that one is but a completely honest review can have all the things you mention that point toward a fake review.  So all you can do is make assumptions and presume to be able to tell the good from the bad when in fact you can’t without proof.  All you can do is try and discredit the good with the bad.

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The REAL Way to Know If a Review is Fake

From Ralph on February 01, 2013 :: 6:24 pm

Some books are awesome. I’m an author myself and about one out of every 1000 readers reviews my book. Many write in superlatives and use exclamation points because they connect with the book so much that they feel compelled to write one. Most of them are first time reviewers. The real way to know is when a few people per day are reviewing the book and the book is not a NYT bestseller. Look at the dates of the reviews. If they come in clumps, they’re fake. Most of my competitors do this, and it really ticks me off. One of them even shows the towns of many of the reviewers, and they’re all a few minutes drive from the author’s town. He was also doing review swaps with other authors.

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I get more information from negative reviews

From Connie on August 01, 2014 :: 11:31 am

When I really want to know about a place or a product, I read the negative reviews.  If they are situation (a crying baby near by - or didn’t work for me) I tend to believe the good reviews more, but when the negative ones are very specific and they all have the same complaint (shoddy workmanship, fell apart) then I know the product isn’t worth investing in..

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On Amazon you simply look

From Mary Withrow on August 01, 2014 :: 1:05 pm

On Amazon you simply look for the words “purchased” next to the review.  I don’t even look at the ones that don’t say this.  I am pretty sure Google Play does this as well.

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My Amazon Reviews

From Gwendolyn Chapman on August 01, 2014 :: 6:16 pm

I have used “my husband” in numerous Amazon reviews. We have one Amazon account, and it is in my name.  My husband places orders, and I get emails asking for a review.  So when I review the product, I tell the truth and use the term “my husband” because he is the one who used the product.

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Gee, my reviews must be fake.

From GrammarGertie on August 02, 2014 :: 3:19 am

I write reviews for many places, but mostly for Yelp, where I have over 400 reviews.  Many of them include pictures of the food or the restaurant.  My reviews are balanced, and even if I have a tiny nit in an otherwise rave review, I will add it.  I’ve been complimented many times by owners who appreciate constructive criticism.  I often include photos of the restaurant or the food (315+), and this can indicate that the reviewer has, indeed, visited the restaurant.

However, based on what’s written in this article, my reviews may be perceived as fake.  Why?  I often mention “my husband,” who usually orders a different meal, which I taste.  Why would I exclude him?  I frequently use exclamation points! My reviews are ALWAYS written in the first person.  Who else is writing this review???? 61% of my reviews are 4 to 5 stars, because the city I live in has fabulous restaurants.

I’ve caught and flagged a number of fake reviews, the most recent of which was a response to a scathing review of a store where my husband and I (!) received awful treatment.  It was written by a new member and was an obvious response by a friend of the owner.  She had no previous reviews. 

Yes, there are fake reviews.  But too many of the points in this article can lead readers to discount reviews that are genuine and written from the heart.

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ReviewSkeptic is accurate!

From GrammarGertie on August 02, 2014 :: 3:30 am

I put three of my hotel reviews (2 five-star, 1 one-star) into ReviewSkeptic.  I omitted the optional request to check if I knew whether the reviews were real or fake.  They identified all three of my reviews as truthful. I wish I knew of a fake review, to see if they’d catch that one, but I don’t.  Too bad they don’t do this for restaurants, too.

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Jenny Mertes

From Jenny Gould Gibbs Mertes on August 18, 2014 :: 10:22 pm

How do you explain Yelp’s hiding of all but one bad review of a business in our small town? Out of 13 reviews, only 4 are positive, while 9 are negative. I know nearly every person who wrote a negative review; I know those reviews are real. Yet Yelp decided to hide all but one bad review and show all of the four positive ones. Unless you know that Yelp has hidden 8 bad but legitimate reviews, you’d think this business is reputable. It is not.

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I can't explain it, Jenny

From GrammarGertie on August 19, 2014 :: 5:50 am

Normally, when I look at Yelp’s hidden reviews (which, by the way, are “hidden,” rather than “removed” in most cases, and are still visible, I’ll find that the ones that are hidden are written by new reviewers who have written no or just a couple of previous reviews.  The people you know who wrote the bad reviews may be new to Yelp, which always makes them suspect to Yelp, especially if their review is glowing or it trashes the place.

But if they have a track record at Yelp, then it’s not explainable, and I can’t even begin to try.  In that case they should contact Yelp and ask for an explanation, or submit the review again.

Last night I flagged the only 2 reviews a new reviewer posted on Yelp.  Her first was a 5-star rave for a new pizza place that opened near me.  Her very short written review was a love letter, and extolled the cannolis.  She managed to add 5 photos of 5 different whole pizzas, and the photos weren’t taken through glass, telling me that she was behind the counter when she took them.  This was right after we ordered our first pizza from the place, and the girl who took the order over the phone urged me to order some cannolis!  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Her only other (1-star) review was for another nearby pizza place.  In this one, she claimed “she heard” that a nephew of the owner, who apparently works there, has a drug problem and some STDs.  Outright slander.  I expect both reviews to be gone soon.

Our opinion (my husband and I!) was that the pizza sucked.  That will be reflected in my review, and it will contrast with the almost-rave other two reviews on the site.  Those, by virtue of my long association with Yelp, seem to me to be genuine. 

I think it would be easier for people to separate the wheat from the chaff if they took their time to look at the context of a review, look at a reviewer’s other postings, and then decide on the merit of a particular review or place.

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I appreciate your insight on Yelp

From Jenny Gould Gibbs Mertes on August 19, 2014 :: 1:23 pm

Yes, the bad reviews were hidden rather than removed - good distinction. I think you’re right when you say that these people leaving the negative reviews tended to be new to Yelp. The first time I looked into this particular business on Yelp, all four visible reviews were good (4 or 5 stars), while all seven hidden reviews were negative. Now they’ve hidden one good review and added one negative to the visibles, so at least it’s a bit more balanced.

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Glad I was able to help

From GrammarGertie on August 19, 2014 :: 4:24 pm

Yelp certainly isn’t perfect, but understanding how it works (not that anyone can ever really figure out their algorithms) goes a long way to letting people see that most of the reviews are pretty legitimate. And most of us who are inveterate reviewers do our part by flagging those reviews that are suspect.

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