Here's How to Spot A Fake Product Review

Category: Shopping

Amazon has launched an offensive this year against sellers on their platform that post or solicit false, misleading, or inauthentic reviews. Dozens of vendors, including a few high-profile ones, have been banned. Read on for some tips on spotting fake reviews at online shopping sites...

“LUCKIES Are Less Irritating!”

A recent article bearing the headline Amazon Says It’S Permanently Banned 600 Chinese Brands For Review Fraud caught my attention. My first thought upon reading this news was, “Only 600?” The e-commerce giant hosts over 1.5 million active sellers from more than 100 countries, all of them vying for the edge that an extra rating point can give them. Among those Amazon sellers, there must be more than 600 who have solicited fake reviews and ratings.

Amazon spent five months earlier this year in a global crackdown looking into sellers that were "knowingly, repeatedly and significantly violating Amazon’s policies." They've permanently banned over 600 vendors (all Chinese) that were controlling 3,000 different seller accounts. Among them were some fairly well-known brands such as Aukey, Mpow, and RavPower selling bluetooth headphones, earbuds, power banks, car phone mounts, and other electronics accessories.

A few months ago, my son told me his friend was making extra money by posting fake reviews online. It turns out there are websites and Facebook groups where sellers can solicit people to post postive reviews in exchange for cash or free merchandise. That was my rude awakening to the existence of massive organized efforts to "game the system" of online reviews. It made me mad, because I've relied on those reviews and recommended them to others, assuming they contained accurate information from real people who actually bought those products.

fake reviews - online shopping

Maybe that's why the highly-rated Mpow car phone mount that I bought last year turned out to be junk that broke a few days after installing it on my windshield.

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, and driving sales that might have gone to an honest competitor.

Here's another disturbing fact -- the "Verified Purchase" tag you see on Amazon and other online marketplaces may be meaningless. Some review scammers will pay a bounty for fake reviews, or refund the "purchaser" and allow them to keep the merchandise. Other sellers are more devious. One method involves "borrowing" the name and address of a real person (easy with all the data breaches happening) and creating a fake account in their name. They order their own product, and ship a package to the "victim," who receives either an empty box or a low-value item. The real user gets the package, and the fake purchaser leaves a 5-star review.

If you've ever gotten a package from Amazon that you didn't order, this is most likely the reason. If this happens to you, check online for reviews of that product bearing your name.

Marginalizing Bogus Reviews

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. So Amazon takes fake reviews and the sellers who solicit them very seriously. But with millions of sellers, it's a constant battle with an escalating "arms war" of technology employed by both sides.

So how can busy consumers tell the difference between a real, honest review and a pile of fake and dishonest ones?

Fakespot is one organization with a mission of bringing trust and transparency to ecommerce. Fakespot analyzed 2.7 million online revies and found that nearly 40% of them were fake or unreliable. The product categories with the highest levels of bogus reviews are Electronics, Home Decor, Apparel and Beauty.

Fakespot offers free tools that use AI to detect fraudulent product reviews and third-party sellers in real-time. Install the Fakespot browser extension, or download the Fakespot app for Android or iOS mobile phones. If you don't want to install any software, you can paste the URL of a product to the analyzer bar on their website and get a result.

Another tool to ferret out fake reviews is ReviewMeta, whichc analyzes Amazon reviews and makes an educated guess as to their veracity. The free apps and browser extensions offered by ReviewMeta filter out "unnatural" or suspicious reviews and display an adjusted rating if review fraud is suspected.

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 "Here's How to Spot A Fake Product Review"

(See all 32 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

30 Nov 2021

Reviews are a clustermess. I do try to pick a few positive and a few negative that appear to have been well thought out, include pictures and have details that a fake likely wouldn’t bother to include. But, ultimately, I try to protect myself via other means, since I know reviews can’t really be trusted. They are helpful as a filtering tool, but definitely not the most important filter.

There are other ways to help protect oneself when shopping online. For example:

I only purchase from online retailers that have known, good return policies.

When purchasing from Amazon, I select items “sold and shipped by Amazon.” This helps ensure that I can easily use their return options. I had never had an issue with an Amazon return. I am often refunded before my item arrives to them.

Use a credit card, rather than a debit card, in case there’s an issue where I need to dispute the charge. (I’ve never had to do this, but a friend of mine had to after she purchased something from some random seller on Facebook.) There are other forms of payment that also include buyer protections, as well.

Posted by:

Robert A.
30 Nov 2021

Why do so many folks feel they are obligated to give a review? Out of a sense of being a better person to the rest of humanity? I buy a lot of movies on Blu-ray discs, on Amazon, of movies that I've seen and enjoyed at the theatre, over the years, or movies that look to be interesting based on reviews I've read on legitimate media - major newspapers and magazines. But I don't feel that I have to give a review for a movie that I like or don't like - it's my personal opinion. Major bricks-and-mortar stores don't bug you to give a review, If you don't like the product, just return it and get a refund, and buy something else.

Posted by:

30 Nov 2021

I've used Fakespot for about 6 months now and I am satisfied with their analysis.

Posted by:

30 Nov 2021

I only trust the review ratings if there is a large {greater than 1,000} number of reviews. It would be a lot of work or expensive to fake so many reviews!

Posted by:

30 Nov 2021

I try to check reviews on multiple websites - Amazon/Walmart/Target/BestBuy/HomeDepot etc - PLUS the mfr website. I ignore reviews of products used less than 3 months or untried - sure you love it bc it's new, but when the honeymoon's over? As another reader said, the return policy is key regardless. Also good are reviews found on various tech forums, which usually include pertinent details of pros and cons. I also don't leave a review w/just thumbs up or down, but w/specifics on the product experience. Thanks Bob!!

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
30 Nov 2021

I have been an Amazon shopper for a very long time. I suppose I have been lucky because I have never received an item from them that was not what I expected it to be, and my orders have always arrived on (or ahead) of schedule. When I want something, I search the Internet for it first, to get an idea what it will cost, and which brands are available. Next, I look on Amazon and any other vendor sites (such as Best Buy for electronic devices, etc.) to see who has what I decided to get. I also check the original vendor's site (the brand name owner's site) if there is one. For example, I got my current phone from the Samsung website because their price was very competitive with the other sites I searched.

As for product reviews, I look more at the ratio of product ratings (how many reviews for each category e.g.: 1 to 5 stars) than the ratings themselves. if I am in doubt about a product (or seller) I do read the more negative reviews first (1, 2, or 3 stars) to get a feeling for what issues the purchaser had to deal with regarding the product. I tend to ignore the negative reviews that simply say the item is crap, etc. with no explanation why.

I also look at a few of the positive reviews (4 and 5 star) to get a handle on what other purchasers liked about the item. As with the negative reviews, I ignore the ones that tell me the product is great, outstanding, etc. with no explanation why it's so good.

If I see too many 1-star, or 5-star generalized reviews that fail to tell me why the product is either so great or terrible (on Amazon), I look for a different seller. If I am shopping elsewhere (not on Amazon), I go look on Amazon to see if they sell the item, and what the ratings/reviews look like. Another thing I do is look for reviews on the Internet for the product (and seller) I am researching.

The bottom line for me is that if I have any doubt about a product (or seller), I don't buy. I take my time. I do the research so I know as much as I can about the item I want to buy. As far as I am concerned, taking the time to do the research before buying a product, then when I am satisfied that the product will meet my expectations, and I know as much as I can about what I may be getting into, I go ahead and buy it.

These are the things I have found that seem to work for me. I look at anything a seller says about a product with skepticism. I try to find products that are developed by manufacturers whose reputation I trust. If I get burned (has not happened yet), I'll report my issue to Amazon (if I got the item there), or to wherever I got it. If the vendor site lets me post a review, I do so with as much detail as I can (I keep records about everything I purchase for this reason). I know that most people do not have the time to do as much research as I do, but I hope that anyone who reads this can get a few ideas and develop their own processes, especially for the more expensive items we all have to get from time to time.


Posted by:

30 Nov 2021


Sincere thanks for an informative article as usual !

Posted by:

Tom R
30 Nov 2021

I go back through months of reviews, especially if the last 20-30 are 5 star. The big giveaway for me is that they don't go into detail about why they gave it a 4-5 star rating. All you see is 'great seller' or 'good product' or nothing at all. If there are 20-30 of these in a row, I run away.

Posted by:

Andris Simsons
30 Nov 2021

Negative reviews are already commonplace, so an abundance of bad reviews don't necessarily indicate a shoddy product:

"Sellers even go to the lengths of buying negative fake reviews for their direct competitors to deter the competition." -

Posted by:

Barry Delmonico
01 Dec 2021

Thanks! I purchase a LOT from Amazon ck very last purchase and it checked out OK. Lucky me. Thanks again for the info!

Posted by:

01 Dec 2021


(Payment according to the usual arrangement, please)

Posted by:

Walter Cawford
01 Dec 2021

There has been and and always will be charalatins trying to extract money from from honest people.

Posted by:

Stephe (UK)
01 Dec 2021

I'm sorry to see that my five-star, effusive, all capitalised review, of your article, written under the pseudonym "HAPPY READER", has been removed. Are you so concerned about a little ironic humour?

BTW, I am honestly a fan of you and of your articles and would not wish to mock you — the irony was intended as a humourous comment on the nature and trustworthiness of online reviews rather than as a dig at you. Keep up the good work!

Posted by:

Stephe (UK)
01 Dec 2021

Oh, it has re-appeared!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Must have been a browser glitch. I didn't edit or delete your comment.

Posted by:

Bruce Fraser
03 Dec 2021

Stephe/Happy Reader: I've noticed on this and other sites that often my comments don't appear immediately; sometimes it even takes a day before they show up.

Posted by:

Peter Oh
04 Dec 2021

I have purchased from many on line vendors: Amazon. Ebay vendors, & several Chinese sites.
You do need to be careful, not only about reviews but also about the quality of the product related information & specs.
I always consider risk although almost all of my purchases are value below 100 USD. Buying from a local retailer (on line or otherwise) is the safest, you have phone contact options & the retailers address. plus returns will not involve shipping cots.
I also use Paypal for offshore payments, Paypal can be helpful in speeding resolutions.

Posted by:

Torrey D Johnson
04 Dec 2021

I read your “Fake Product Reviews” article with interest. Have you considered a related issue (in my mind, at least) – that of photos of items, particularly clothing that are faked? A person can look at an eye catching garment, color, or text on a shirt and believe that it is a photo of an existing product. A quick examination of other photos in a website often quickly reveals that a SINGLE photo has been “photo-shopped” with numerous other garments, colors, styles, etc. There are many examples. Simply note position of the hands, the jewelry, the details of hair, etc., etc. I(s it possible to send example photos - perhaps a link or email address?)

Posted by:

05 Dec 2021

I have zero faith in Amazon. And their treatment of their small vendors is absurd.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2021

I only check the negative comments... if i read in the positive column-"just ordered my shebang and i cant wait to get it!!!" that tells me nothing...
of course.. but the negatives seem more valid.."the thing broke the second day i used it to splay up my neederbocker"... tells me a lot more about the item.....

Posted by:

Jim Gordon
27 Dec 2021

Reviews that say “product met my expectations” or “good product” any thing like that must be fake. I ALWAYS check negative reviews. If they say mostly the same things then I pass. Also a detailed review praising the item is probably trustworthy.

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