In some product categories, more than two-thirds of reviews are fake.
Many businesses rely heavily on positive reviews to attract new customers. Around 77% of online shoppers use other people’s opinions to decide which product to buy and a healthy number of 5-star reviews is often the deciding factor in a purchase.
Knowing this, businesses go to great lengths to improve their rating. Their tactics range from the slightly grey area of incentivising happy customers to write reviews to the clearly unethical practice of purchasing fake reviews in bulk from fake review brokers.
Broadly speaking, there are nine main ‘types’ of fake reviews:
- Incentivised reviews
- Review gating
- Paid-for reviews
- Family and friends
- Internet trolls
- Disgruntled customers
- Review flagging
- Competitor takedown
- Switched reviews
Let’s take a look at these in more detail.
1. Incentivised reviews
Incentivised reviews are positive reviews that individuals post for a business in exchange for some kind of benefit, rather than because they really liked the product or had a great experience.
We’ve seen incentives range from a free shot to future discounts and vouchers and this is one of the most common forms of review fakery. It can be very difficult to detect unless the reviewer has made it very obvious that they’ve been incentivised, like in the below examples.
2. Review gating
In gated reviews, businesses ask consumers via text, email, or social media about their experience. Customers who indicate that their experience was positive are then encouraged to leave a positive review and customers who claim to have had a negative experience are asked to offer feedback privately.
The positive reviews are cherry-picked in this process, making a product appear more positive on its public-facing page and keeping any negative feedback out of sight. A company wanting to review gate may contact you with a form like the below:
3. Paid-for reviews
Ever seen a brand new product show up on Amazon with thousands of five-star reviews? This is likely done with the help of fake review brokers and is one of the most common fake review methods we see. Fake review brokers act as a middleman between unethical businesses wanting to inflate their rating and customers looking for freebies. It’s big business and has even seen court cases from the likes of Amazon between brokers in Europe and the US.
Methods include customers purchasing goods, writing a five-star review and receiving a refund for the product in return or just paying a set price to receive a number of fake five-star reviews.
As well as fake review brokers, some marketing and PR agencies will offer the writing of multiple positive reviews as a service to their clients.
4. Family and friends
To support someone selling online, friends and family members may post positive fake reviews to help them generate more revenue. These reviews are blurred between real and fake depending on whether they even tried the product or not. However, family and friends sometimes publish reviews before even trying a product.
This method is mainly contained to small businesses in their initial stages hoping to build a good online “reputation” quickly rather than waiting to receive reviews naturally and gradually. Businesses doing this often feel compelled to fake as their competitors do it, presenting an uncomfortable catch-22 situation.
5. Internet trolls/fans
Internet users sometimes organise a fake review campaign, usually of someone well-known, to put an establishment in a good or bad light. Trolls know that negative reviews will impact a business’s ability to transform reviews into revenue, preventing customers from purchasing a particular product. It works the other way too with superfans of a celebrity posting positive reviews in the masses to lend their support to a new product (e.g. a book or an album) from that celebrity.
6. Disgruntled customers
Customers who’ve had a particularly bad experience with a company sometimes want to amplify their displeasure by posting more than one negative review. It’s easy to set up new accounts and historically review platforms have turned a blind eye to the practice, although recently they’ve taken small steps to address this. The upshot is that armed with multiple accounts and enough time one person can easily trash a business's rating. The images below show two sloppily written negative reviews, clearly written by the same individual to deflate a business’s score.
7. Review flagging
Flagging reviews exists to guard against reviews which go against the platform’s terms and conditions which include content that is illegal, violent or harassing.
Unscrupulous businesses abuse this feature by flagging every negative review in the hope that some will get removed from the platform, and many are! Some platforms have policies in place that make it easy for businesses to use this tactic, which makes this an effective way for businesses to improve their score.
Trustpilot shows how many reviews businesses have flagged, like in the below screenshot.
8. Competitor takedown campaigns
Some businesses orchestrate wide-scale campaigns to take down their biggest competitors. By forming a network of fake review writers who post negative reviews about their competitors, the firm intends to increase its revenue by luring customers away from the competition.
9. Switched reviews
Businesses that switch reviews receive positive reviews about a product and then swap the product for an unrelated one. So, whilst the product page is entirely different, the listed positive reviews remain the same from before. This type of review fakery is mostly found on Amazon, like in the below example where a mosquito lamp listing contained reviews about chlorine tablets.
Using technology to detect fake reviews
It is near impossible to tell with 100% certainty that a review is real or fake. However, our engineered AI algorithm has analysed millions of reviews (both real and fake) and has learnt what suspicious characteristics to look for in reviews that are likely to be fake. Using this technology, we have input every UK restaurant into our restaurant database to help consumers find restaurants based on genuine reputation. We also help businesses monitor and understand their reviews - find out more about how we help businesses here.
Written by Ella Patenall on February 28, 2023