Beware! The review you are counting on may be fake!

Gayatri Vinayak
A huge number of unscrupulous sellers employ paid reviewers to write glorifying positive reviews about their products, or negative reviews about a competitor, making it difficult to determine whether a review is genuine or not.

I usually opt for products which have five-star ratings and good reviews online, even if my first choice may have been something else. This used to work fine for me until I started receiving products that were nowhere worth the reviews and ratings they were getting. And that was when I decided to do some reading up on fake/purchased reviews and ratings.

With a gazillion e-commerce sites, it becomes difficult to decide what and where to buy from. Especially since, you can’t touch or see the product/hotel package that you intend to buy, online. Which is why, like me, people read reviews and check ratings before buying anything on the internet or booking a hotel.

However, with anonymity being the strong (and weak) point of the internet, how sure can you be that the review you are reading is genuine? Well, it is not easy to spot a fake review and, as per reports, up to a third of all reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor are reportedly fake, with hotels and restaurants purchasing glowing reviews – a charge that the company has denied.

For Amazon, fake reviews have been a problem right from when it was founded. An investigation conducted by Which has revealed that sellers have been finding ways to boost product listings by buying positive or fake reviews. As per their findings, sellers used Facebook review groups with tens of thousands of incentivised reviewers who posted positive reviews on products. Further, old products with positive reviews were also being used to promote new, unrelated products.

Online sellers often use fake reviews to either boost their sales, product image and search engine rankings or against the competition to sabotage their business. They hire professional PR companies, content writers or even incentivised customers to post positive reviews.

How to spot if a review is fake

Researchers from Cornell University have devised a free algorithm, called Review Skeptic that will help you decide whether a particular hotel review is genuine or not, reportedly with 90 per cent accuracy. The algorithm analyses the language of a review to determine whether it is fake.

Here are some other tips to follow and warning signs to heed to help you flag reviews that may be fake:

Verified buyers: Ensure that you buy from sites that check their reviewers. If you are shopping on Amazon, check for reviews which are marked Amazon verified purchase - these are, most often, genuine buyers. Sites such as, for example, only allow guests who have previously stayed in the hotel to post a review – hence the chances of it being genuine are higher.

Multiple reviews in a short time: If you find that multiple people have reviewed a particular product positively/adversely within a short period of time, this could be a warning sign to be more cautious about the ratings. Chances are that the seller would have hired someone to post the reviews on the site.

All in the detail: You will obviously not be able to review a product in detail unless you have visited/bought it. Hence, as per the Cornell research, if a hotel review is genuine, it is more likely to use specifics relating to a hotel, such as ‘price’, ‘check-in’ or ‘bathroom.’ On the other hand, fake reviewers would use more generic terms such as ‘vacation,’ ‘family’ or business trip,’ and the reviewer would describe the trip more than the actual hotel.

Language of the review: As per studies, fake reviewers use a lot of personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘we’ in a bid to come across as sounding more genuine. If a review comes across as glowingly positive or alarmingly bad – “best product ever!” or “this product is a fraud!” - chances of it being a fake review are high. Further, reviews which lack punctuation and are full of typos also need to be flagged, as these may be written by hired newbie writers. Fake reviews also often contain more verbs, while genuine reviews use more nouns.

Sounds more like an advertisement: If the reviewer insists on naming the product multiple times, chances are that they are doing this for SEO reasons. Also, be wary of reviews that read more like an infomercial than a review.

Check multiple websites: Before narrowing down on purchases, check for the reviews on multiple sites. If they vary greatly, the chances of some of them being fake are higher. Also ensure that the seller you are buying is a genuine one with a website and verified contact details, in case you need to return your product.

Check for names and photos: Any review which is written by a generic-sounding name such as John or Jane Doe, or alphabets and numbers, and is not accompanied by any photograph, has greater chances of turning out to be a fake.

Go for the mid-range: It is often better to go for reviews that rate products 3.5/5, as chances of them being genuine and not fake or promotional, are higher.

Reach out: You can also reach out to the reviewer, if possible, in case you are in doubt. If it is a genuine person, they may respond to further queries about the product/hotel.

Spotting a fake is not easy, nor 100 per cent accurate. However, with a little bit of practice, you can get there. By spotting and reporting reviews that are fake, you can help weed out deceitful vendors who are out to sell bad products and services, while helping genuine sellers get more customers.