30 Ways You Can Spot Fake Online Reviews

Last week we showed you a few ways to spot fake online reviews and asked you to submit yours. We got some really great stuff! Here’s the tips and techniques savvy Consumerist readers use to ferret out the shills, sockpuppets and charlatans when cruising online reviews of products and services. Get yer learn on!

1. “Marketing speak. Normal people do not write in marketing speak.”
2. Beware “fake negative reviews… Shills will go onto, say, a weight loss pill site and leave an ad that says: “This product does NOT work as advertised! It said I’d lose 20 pounds guaranteed. Well I lost 4O POUNDS. That is not what I wanted!”
3. Reviewers have no other reviews on the site.
4. Multiple reviews that are exactly the same.
5. Even if they’re not fakesters, anyone who writes in ALL CAPS is an idiot and should be ignored.
6. Beware the “polyamorous” reviewer, every product gets a glowing and unvarnished review…
7. And the “monogamous” reviewer, whose only reviews are for products by one manufacturer. All praise, natch.
8. “The reviewers say the entire name and model of the product over and over.” This is often a sign of a cheap attempt to game search engine results. i.e. “The bright colors of the ABC Widget 3000X are the best I’ve ever seen and I never want to be without my ABC Widget 3000X! The ABC Widget 3000X is easy to use and the ABC Widget 3000X tastes great on toast!” People do this because, “Some of the fake reviews are done to generate rankings within search engines. Yes, most search engines like to view the number of hyperlinks as a metric, but having a bunch of separate sites mentioning the exact name of an item or web page will work too. Just depends on how the search engine weighs the mentions vs. the hyperlinks vs. ‘voodoo magic of the algorithms’. That’s why some of the reviews look off to a normal person. They were written to catch the eye of a search engine’s bot.”
9. “The person uses the “brand approved” version of the name. Something no normal person would write but a marketer would. Like the name of the product in all caps.”
10. While negative reviews are often a good source of specific product information, dig beneath the 1-stars to find out the review behind it…sometimes they’re just drive-by lazy slams like, “This sux!”
11. Hyperventilating negative reviews can be a sign either of mental imbalance or of another company trying to jack their competitor. For instance, “DOES NOT WORK!!!!! Broke after 10 seconds, so I returned it and got an (insert name of competitor product) instead, and I couldn’t be happier!”
12. They frequently feature people who claim they were turned off by the product at first, but after trying it for some really lame reason (after all why would they try something they were so disgusted by) they suddenly saw the light and wanted to spread it to the world.”
13. “They give a discount code or tell you where to go to buy the product.”
14. “They go into long-winded explanations why the product is so much better than other, pretty much identical, products sold under different brand names.”
15. They just smell like bullshit. For instance, one commenter wrote, “I saw a local restaurant review website, with obviously fake reviews for one particular Mexican place like:

“Guacamole like my grandmother in Mexico used to make! Sure it was a little pricey, but worth every penny due to the large portion sizes and excellent service!”

Then another review right under it,

“I had so much fun at happy hour, so many beautiful ladies! Spilled my margarita all over my shirt, and a gorgeous bartender dabbed it up for me and gave me a fresh one, on the house. I’m going back next week to see her again!”

A couple weeks later I checked the same website, where I’d left a review (that was unfavorable). The website had some kind of bug that revealed the email address of the people who left reviews (including mine). Turned out 10 of the 12 reviews were registered under the same email address, all posting under different fake names like “Bob” and “Jenny.””

16. “The “Lazy & getting paid $0.10 per review”: “I love their food, they have the best [appropriate food or drink] item around!” That’s it. The whole review. For 12 places.”
17. The “I have an axe to grind”: The person who posted a 1 star “review” on every Planned Parenthood in three states with their view on abortion.
18. With a franchise operation, all the reviewers have reviewed the other locations of the national chain within a few days of one another.
19. There’s “only a few reviews, all overwhelmingly positive.”
20. “Reviews using many of the same buzzwords that the website uses in describing its products/services (or the same broken English that the website is written in).”
21. “All of the reviewers have accounts created around the same time, usually around the time the domain name was registered.” You can figure out when a domain was registered by looking it up on a site like whois.net.
22. The username has more than 3 numbers at the end. Especially if several of the other reviews are left by users with more than 3 numbers at the end. Usually a sign of an automated program leaving reviews.
23. If “the review [is] done weeks/months before said product is actually released.”
24. “If the reviewer responds to the problems from negative reviews by saying something like, “Company X wouldn’t do that” or “Company X makes quality products”. Normal people would say that they didn’t have that problem, say how they got around the problem, or even explain what other people are doing wrong.”
25. “The reviewer doesn’t actually say anything about the product itself.”
26. “The reviewer includes a link to their site. It is almost always the case that the reviewer left the review just to post the link and the review itself is useless.”
27. “My favorite way to double check a fake review is to highlight a peculiar phrasing in the review and do a google search for it. Funny, but the bigger the company or product the more they just place cookie-cutter reviews. You’ll see the phrase spring up all over the different review sites.”
28. “I’m skeptical of any reviews for a product/company that has a built-in history of fan-boy wars. Apple vs. Microsoft, for example. I hate it when fans of the product “A” leave fake negative reviews of product “B” out of spite.”
29. “I completely avoid 5 star and 1 star ratings, and go straight for the 2-4 stars. I find they are usually much more reliable.”
30. Red flag words: “Treat” and any variation of “Recommend”

With all the dross, how can you separate lies from reality? Commenter SuperSnack sums it up best, “Unfortunately, right now a lot of people are presuming because they can easily identify *some* online reviews, they believe they can easily detect all bs marketing reviews. This is not even close to the truth. Many marketers are stupid and lazy, many are honest and legit, and many are smart, devious, and crafty. The third category are filling many review sites under your nose without your awareness. Be skeptical of online reviews, period.”

That’s why online reviews should be just one set of data in your product research, and always taken in aggregate—and a giant grain of salt.

Any we missed? Leave your favorite method for spotting fake online reviews in the comments.

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