Can You Spot A Fake Product Review?

Category: Shopping

Amazon has launched a lawsuit against 1,114 “John Doe” defendants, charging they damaged the company’s reputation by posting “false, misleading, and inauthentic” reviews. Read on for some tips on spotting fake reviews at online shopping sites…

“LUCKIES Are Less Irritating!”

My first thought upon reading the news that Amazon was filing suit against 1,114 scam reviewers was, “Only 1,114?” The e-commerce giant hosts over 2 million sellers from more than 100 countries, all of them vying for the edge that an extra rating point can give them. Among more than 244 million active Amazon members, there must be more than 1,114 who have sold or solicited fake reviews and ratings.

This batch of mercenaries was caught on Fiverr, a freelancers’ marketplace where people offer small tasks for a set price of $5.00. Amazon was tipped off (probably by an Amazon seller) that people on Fiverr were offering to write favorable reviews of products and give five-star ratings for just five bucks.

Amazon’s investigators posed as sellers seeking good reviews and ratings, buying a number of reviews and networking through the fake-reviewer community on Fiverr. Nailing down the reviewers’ true identities was tough; many of them used multiple accounts and IP addresses to lay confusing trails. But Amazon filed suit against 1,114 unknown parties, hoping that will unlock their real identities.

fake reviews - online shopping

Fiverr will be subpoenaed for its records of the accused’s true name, address, and full account activity history. And Fiverr’s OK with that. Fiverr’s terms of service bans things like offers to write bogus reviews. The two companies have cooperated in the past to shut down bogus review writers. (Yelp should take notice. I don't know anyone who trusts Yelp ratings, because they are notoriously corrupt.)

Amazon polices its own house, too. The company’s software algorithms scan reviews for “fake sounding” telltales. An obvious example is the five-star review of a USB cable with the comment, “Good charger!” Well, what would you expect for five bucks – John Dvorak?

Marginalizing Bogus Reviews

Bogus reviews are not deleted, but their effects on ratings are diminished. Reviews posted by verified purchasers of products rise to the top of the algorithmic filter, giving their ratings more weight than those of non-purchasers. Suspected fake reviews are buried in search results and their ratings are discarded in calculation of sellers’ overall ratings.

Like most consumers, I pay attention to reviews and ratings when shopping online. Customers’ faith in the Amazon ratings system is fundamental to the company’s success, to date and for the future. Amazon takes fake reviews and the sellers who buy them very seriously. In fact, this “John Doe” lawsuit is not even Amazon’s first legal attack this year on fake reviews.

In April, 2015, Amazon filed suit against a number of websites that offered fake reviews for sale. Californian Jay Gentile is named as a defendant and owner of; the other sites’ operators are “John Does” for now. They may turn out to be Gentile, or not.

Gentile was pretty careless in what he put on the Web, it seems. Aside from the domain name that screams, “SCAM!” he even told visitors his modus operandi, according to Amazon’s lawsuit. He (or one of his ghost review writers) would order a seller’s product and the seller would ship an empty box. Now Gentile was a “verified purchaser” so his review and rating carried more weight. Presumably, the money Gentile charged more than covered what he paid for the empty box that he received.

How heavily do you rely on reviews and ratings when shopping online, on Amazon or elsewhere? Have you run across reviews that seemed fake? If so, what tipped you off? For extra credit, post your favorite product review, even if you think it’s fake.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Can You Spot A Fake Product Review?"

(See all 46 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

20 Oct 2015

I pay more attention to those with the "verified purchaser" notation. I've had very good luck with Amazon, so overall I think they do a good job and appreciate the lengths they go to in order to assure the review is by a real purchaser.

Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
20 Oct 2015

Funniest overall reviews are for plain old milk.

Here's just the first part of one of them, written by someone who signs his name as Edgar:

Once upon a mid-day sunny, while I savored Nuts 'N Honey,
With my Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 gal, 128 fl. oz., I swore
As I went on with my lapping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at the icebox door.
'Bad condensor, that,' I muttered, 'vibrating the icebox door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

It goes on ... along with more than 1,700 other brilliant reviews


Don't miss the Q&A either:

Two examples:

Q: If I spill it, can I cry?
A: If you do it is best to cry either next to it or below it. Crying over it is useless.

Q: I've never tasted milk from a whole before, and certainly not from a Tuscan Whole. How is it with chocolate chip cookies?
A: I don't know. I cannot get them to fit through the opening in the top of the jug.

"A toast to milk! ... Cheers!"


Posted by:

20 Oct 2015

Like everyone else I shop Amazon all the time, and after reading the product specs the first thing I go to is the reviews. However, I almost never read the 5 star reviews unless I'm unsure of what the product does, how to use or install it or whatever. I already know what they are going to say, and I also know a lot of them may be fake.
The same is true of the 1 star reviews, but I do look at them for a common thread. Is there one problem that many people seem to have had? I'll check the 2, 3 and 4 star reviews because they are the ones least likely to be fake, and I can get a better idea of how real users like the product.

Posted by:

20 Oct 2015

I admit, I wrote a fake review once because the item was SOOOO bad and I wanted to be sarcastic. It was for a book called Microsoft Studio for Beginners and my review was:
This book has changed my life! (Spoiler Alert!) In just 3 short pages, I learned how to install Visual Studio, write a complex program (I said HELLO to the WORLD!) and even debugged the program (Click the X to close the product). I am very grateful to Cameron Walcott for helping me achieve a 6 digit salary due to this quick guide because I aced an interview with Amazon and because of their serious quality checking, was able to obtain the job of my dreams (quality control programming). Now I can write HELLO to the WORLD all day long and don't even have to debug the program because of these amazing 3 pages. And please note Cameron's advice to not pirate the software!

Posted by:

21 Oct 2015

I shop on eBay and Amazon. But as buyers can only write a handful of words in their eBay reviews and those are really only reviews about the seller, I often search for and find the same items on Amazon - and find it has dozens of bad reviews, pointing out all the faults.

Yes, some of the bad reviews on Amazon will undoubtedly have been posted by rival sellers, trying to put you off buying their rivals' items - just as some of the glowing ones will have been posted by sellers, trying to convince everyone how good their items are. But if you read enough of the good and bad reviews, you usually get a fairly reliable consensus either way ;-)

And Amazon's full reviews for each specific item are so much more helpful than eBay's sellers' feedback reviews, which cannot even be sorted!

Posted by:

21 Oct 2015

If it is an expensive item, I will usually check for the product on other websites and see what the reviews are overall. Smaller items I don't bother but once the item hits $300 plus then yes, I'll look at the other sites to include the manufacturers site if available.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2015

I go more by the verified purchase tag, but guess I'll have to be more careful of even that now. I like the way QVC does it- on the upper right of individual reviews, there's a line that says "See all my reviews," and if I hover my mouse over it, about 3 of the person's reviews show up with the rating they gave each purchase. I quickly disregard those who have 3 one-star reviews because some people are never satisfied. Or as my friend says, "They wouldn't be happy if someone hung them with a new rope."

Posted by:

21 Oct 2015

Apropos: the author of "The Clintons' War On Women" is claiming that Hillary's staffers have flooded his book's Amazon pages with negative reviews. PageSix article here: Same article claims that 15% of reviews originate in "boiler room operations."

Posted by:

Sarah L
21 Oct 2015

I read the reviews when I need more information about the product, things I could see if I were in a store with the product in hand. Some people put enough detail of their own experience so that I can learn what I need to know. It had not occurred to me that there were fake reviews; that is disappointing. My preference for large purchases is Consumer Reports. That means I do like reviews of products, but really like the disinterested view the best.

Posted by:

Herb K
21 Oct 2015

I read many of the reviews for the products I buy (the % read depends on the total number of reviews), and I do look for trends. First of all, the ratio of good-vs-bad reviews. Then, the substance of the reviews and whether or not the good and/or bad comments apply to my use. (A negative review for poor over-the-air reception for a TV, for example, would not apply to me because there are zero broadcast signals in my area: cable-only.) A nit-picking negative review I typically disregard, but many negative reviews for the same problem (a knob breaks easily, for example) is a HUGE red flag for me. On the other end of the spectrum, overly profuse positive reviews with no specifics as to why the reviewer liked the product so much are also usually discarded. What's left will usually yield a decent judgement of the product's real value.

Posted by:

Darcetha Manning
21 Oct 2015

I order from Amazon a lot and sometimes from Ebay. I do look at the reviews, on Amazon, but, I also do research online and read Consumer Reports, before I purchase a product.

Posted by:

John j
22 Oct 2015

One review on Amazon for a Samsung TV said this TV was better than stepping onto the holodeck. This was before the TV was released so some people doubted it.

Posted by:

Virg C
22 Oct 2015

So, the title of this article is "Can You Spot a Fake Review", so, is it just me, or anyone else think you were going to get advice, tips, etc. on how to spot fake reviews? Wasn't expecting a "review of online reviews". If I COULD spot fake reviews, I wouldn't need to read an article about it, so, I guess the question is still now answered; no, I cannot spot a fake review. Please, tell me how.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I ended the article by saying "Have you run across reviews that seemed fake? If so, what tipped you off?" See the reader comments for some great answers!

Posted by:

22 Oct 2015

I'm fond of this review I came across on
it's shiny and strong. I use it often. we are 2 people to use it, so before purchasing I thought it was too big for 2 people.
but after using it several times, I found the size is pretty fit for us. I'll never buy any smaller one than this. I can strongly recomend it to anybody who are 2 people.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ha, too much information! :-)

Posted by:

23 Oct 2015

Like others here, I usually head straight to the 1-star comments.

Some 10 years ago (maybe more? maybe less?), there was an Amazon reviewer with tongue-in-cheek texts so witty that articles about the gentleman appeared in the media. His reviews turned out to be so hilarious that my jaws were hurting. If anyone knows/remembers his name, I would love to hear from you… (However, I believe I added him to some kind of Amazon "Following" list (which I can't find him on anymore), so maybe his reviews were taken down — by himself? — for some reason.)

Posted by:

24 Oct 2015

I'm another person who looks at 1 & 2-star reviews on Amazon to see if there is a pattern in the responses. I also look at other websites and pay more attention to Consumer Reports. And I don't pay much attention to verified purchase or Vine reviews. I have been satisfied with Amazon; I buy mostly music and books & I have a pretty good idea on what I'm getting before I click on "place order."

Posted by:

07 Nov 2015

If a poor review is based on a buyer's treatment by the seller, a shipping problems, a pricing issue, or the condition of the product received, I'll typically ignore the review. As other buyers, I look for similar evaluations of product quality, such as parts that break consistently, electrical problems that show up often, and so on. I pay less attention to Consumer Reports than I used to because products reviewed by them are often obsolete (no longer made) by the time their reviews are published.

Posted by:

15 Nov 2015

The more specific the dings or praises are, the more likely I am to give credence to the review. To be credible, I expect either some unknown aspect of the product, or how the product worked or how it affected the area in which it was to be used. And with things electronic, I know there are always some Luddites who will NEVER understand how to use the product, so always discount those as the lunatic fringe. Ditto for the "praise to the heavens" reviews. I generally will only leave negative reviews if I feel I'm being ripped off by the seller.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

@Don: I am *not* "like everyone" *nor* do I "shop [at] Amazon all the time."

Posted by:

25 Jun 2019

I too hoped to hone my detecting skills! I just spent much of today trying to research kitchen faucets w/motion sensors. Scrolling thru many reviews on HomeDepot and Amazon as well as the manufacturers sites and looking for independent reviewing sources.

I already use most of the techniques mentioned. Reading lower reviews, a few higher and mostly 3's and 4's. Some reviewers are just not overly bright when they complain about things that if they read directions they would know what was wrong or fault the product for something it states it does not do, or they measured wrong and it doesn't fit...
It is hard to know what complaints to trust at times, especially if it is a small percentage. I do add the 1's and 2's together to look at what % of the total they comprise. I also look to see if the manufacturer or distributor offers a reasonable response to problems and it it satisfied the poster. Some only respond to the very low complaints, not the ones listed in 4's or 3's with a problem that really should be addressed (tho the person should try customer service).
And the last thing I look for is how hard a time people have trying to contact customer service.
Sigh, I still don't know which faucet to try!

There's more reader feedback... See all 46 comments for this article.

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