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How you can spot fake online reviews and what companies are doing to stop them

Fake online reviews on your favorite shopping sites are a problem, with experts saying as many as a third of reviews on Amazon are false. Last year, the federal government sued a company using fake reviews for the first time.{ } (File)
Fake online reviews on your favorite shopping sites are a problem, with experts saying as many as a third of reviews on Amazon are false. Last year, the federal government sued a company using fake reviews for the first time. (File)
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The old saying goes "honesty is the best policy," but that may not always apply on the internet.

Fake online reviews on your favorite shopping sites are a problem, with experts saying as many as a third of reviews on Amazon are false. Last year, the federal government sued a company using fake reviews for the first time.

Now, others are finding ways to weed out the fakes from the truth.

Between steps on High Street, Isaiah King tells us how he shops online almost everyday.

"Whatever’s cheap, any kind of deal," he says looking at his phone for his next purchase. To figure out what to buy, he relies on reviews.

Especially on Amazon, they have on the top corner all the stars," he says. "I look at that first before anything, to see what people think about the product."

Problem is some of those people, and their comments, might not be real.

Marketing research firm BrightLocal found 82% of people read a fake review last year, and many of them didn't know it.

"This game of e-commerce is a high stakes game, there’s so much money to be made," Saoud Khalifah said. It's the reason he founded Fakespot, after being burned by what he calls a fake review online.

"I received one of the products, it was a supplement, and I looked at it and the pill capsules were made out of dust and the packaging had really flimsy tape, he explained. "I said to myself, 'this has hundreds of 5-star ratings, there’s something completely off here."

Using billions of reviews and computer algorithms, Fakespot says it can find red flags like spelling mistakes, grammar, and repeated words to weed out fake reviews from the real ones.

Khalifah claims close to 35% of reviews on Amazon are false or over-hyped, and 40% of reviews on travel sites like TripAdvisor are also not real.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission sued a seller on Amazon for the first time, accusing them of using a website to generate fake reviews for weight loss pills. The agency also set sights on skincare brand Sunday Riley, who they claim padded reviews for their products.

"If I’m going to shop for anything, I would go and shop from a store so I could actually touch the product and I can feel what it actually is and how it looks," a shopper we talked with said.

To make sure you don't get cheated, be a smart shopper:

  • Look for grammar and language; misspellings, overused words, and specific product names should peak your attention
  • Check the reviewer's profile too; see if they've reviewed other products and read those comments
  • If there are 5-star reviews all over one product especially during a short amount of time, be careful

Amazon tells us they use machine learning tools (AI) and have a team of investigators who look at more than 10 million reviews a week for signs of fraud or abuse. They also monitor and work with social media networks to authenticate reviews posted there.

TripAdvisor tells us they also have a system that detects red flags in fake reviews, plus a team who investigates them.

Both companies say services like Fakespot don't have access to their internal proprietary data, and are therefore not always accurate when claiming a review is fake or estimating how many fake reviews there are.

Read both of the companies' full responses below.

From an Amazon spokesperson on how they are taking on fake reviews:

We want Amazon customers to shop with confidence knowing that the reviews they read are authentic and relevant. We have clear policies for both reviewers and selling partners that prohibits abuse of our community features, and we suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies.
Our objective is to ensure customers see authentic and relevant reviews so they can make better informed purchasing decisions. To do this, we use powerful machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyze over 10MM review submissions weekly, aiming to stop abusive reviews before they are ever published. In addition, we continue to monitor all existing reviews for signs of abuse and quickly take action if we find an issue. We also proactively work with social media sites to report bad actors who are cultivating abusive reviews outside our store, and we’ve sued thousands of bad actors for attempting to abuse our reviews systems. We encourage customers concerned about the authenticity of reviews left on a product to use the “Report abuse” link, available on each review, so that we can investigate and take the appropriate actions.
We are relentless in our efforts to protect the integrity of customer reviews, and we will continue to innovate to ensure customers can trust that every review on Amazon is authentic and relevant.

From an Amazon spokesperson, on Fakespot's analysis of 35% of fake reviews on the site:

Companies like FakeSpot that claim to “check” reviews cannot concretely determine the authenticity of a review, as they do not have access to Amazon’s propriety data such as reviewer, seller and product history. These companies have business models that are inherently biased towards instilling distrust in reviews on Amazon’s and other companies’ stores. We see that bias when we investigate their claims and in the publicity they seek. These companies are consistently inaccurate in their assessments and they often cannot agree amongst themselves as to what is or is not authentic feedback. The fact is they simply do not have access to the information we have and they wrongly accuse reviews from genuine customers who have worked hard to provide valuable feedback so that other shoppers can benefit. That is not to suggest that there aren’t bad actors; we are aware of bad actors that attempt to abuse our systems and we continue to invest significant resources to protect the integrity of our reviews and we will not stop working hard on behalf of our customers and selling partners.
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From a TripAdvisor spokesperson:

Our system checks every TripAdvisor review that goes through our tracking system, which maps the how, what, where and when of each review before it is published. Our team of specialists work 24/7 to investigate any review that is flagged as suspicious by either our system or our community. We use best practice fraud detection techniques borrowed from the banking and credit card industry to spot fraudulent behavior and make it easy for anyone to report a concern with a review. We have free reporting tools for both business owners and consumers, and we investigate all the reports we receive.
Last year, we blocked over one million fake reviews from reaching the site, and we even assisted a prosecution which sent a fake reviewer to jail in Italy.
However, it is important to recognize the facts when it comes to a discussion about the scale of fake reviews, which is often misunderstood. Last year, 2.1% of review submissions to TripAdvisor were found to be fake, and most were blocked before they ever made it to the site. The fact is - fake reviews are far outweighed by the millions of genuine customers who share their experiences on our platform.
Of course, we want to stop any fake review from reaching the site. But it is also true that one fake review isn’t likely to have an impact on a restaurant’s reputation because of the way customers read reviews. On average, TripAdvisor users read nine reviews before making a decision on booking a hotel or a restaurant.
Fakespot has no access to the key technical data you would need to determine whether or not a review is fake or not. We do, and we have been using this data for over a decade to track millions of reviews. If Fakespot’s methods were in any way reliable, we would be using them. We have tested their analysis, with reviews we know to be either genuine or fake, and the results show it to be far too unreliable.
The usefulness and accuracy of the content on TripAdvisor is what has made our site popular to hundreds of millions of consumers. We are the experts in catching fake reviews, not Fakespot. Their business model is dependent on convincing users that review sites cannot be trusted. Our site is built on trust. If the content wasn’t useful, if it wasn’t delivering great recommendations, then consumers wouldn’t keep coming back to the site.

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