Shopping online means putting your trust in any business that makes a product or delivers a service. Fortunately, most of the time we can consult reviews to decide whether a product or service is worth the money. However, this is made more difficult when a substantial proportion of reviews are fake.
It can be very difficult to tell the real from the fake, which means it’s hard to know which businesses you can trust and buy from, and which you should avoid. Ultimately, purchasing an item on the promise of a high rating means the product should be high quality, but an item with lots of fakes will waste your money as well as the planet’s resources in materials and shipping.
However, there are a number of characteristics that are common to fake reviews. Our algorithm has analysed millions of reviews online to detect these suspicious characteristics, and we have become well-versed in spotting them too. You can never tell if a review is real or fake, but by knowing what to look out for you can make a more accurate guess.
Here are 11 characteristics that commonly appear in fake reviews:
1. Lots of five-star reviews left in a short period of time
Products with hundreds of fake positive reviews (left by the businesses themselves) are more common than those with hundreds of fake negative reviews (left by competitors or disgruntled customers).
Simply look at the top items on Amazon and you'll see they have thousands of five-star reviews. This could indicate the involvement of review brokers who are paid to give five-star reviews or who gift customers free items for the promise of a five-star review, and can therefore rack them up quickly.
Be cautious of reviews that seem too good to be true. If a product or service has only glowing reviews, it may be a sign that some (or most) of the reviews are fake.
2. Reviews are very short or vague
Fake reviews are typically quite short and often have no text at all. This is particularly suspicious if the reviews are highly polarised (either 1* or 5*). Real reviews are likely to contain more detail, so watch out for vague and generic language – this indicates that the reviewer hasn’t actually tried the product or service.
Furthermore, those who are paid to write fake review after review will make them short so they can speed up the process and quickly inflate the business's score.
3. Strange grammar or language
Fake reviews are more likely to include strange grammar or phraseology. This is largely because companies who use fake review brokers frequently outsource the writing to developing countries like India where the first language is not English. Add this to the fact that the reviewers are tasked with writing many reviews in one day, and are sometimes asked to include products they haven’t tried, it’s no wonder these reviews can sound a little bizarre.
Look for patterns in the language used. Many fake reviews will use similar language, such as overly positive or negative phrases, or will repeat the same information multiple times.
4. It’s a duplicated review
If we come across a bizarrely written review, we’ll paste the contents into Google. Often we find the same review has been left for several other restaurants or products. It might even have been pasted from lists of templated fake reviews online.
You can also check this at a reviewer level. Click on the user and see if they have written reviews with identical or similar wording elsewhere – this is a sign their reviews are likely fake.
5. The user has not left any other reviews
Suspicion could also be sparked if the author has yet to leave any other reviews. This could indicate that it is a burner account – one generated for the sole purpose of constructing and publishing fake reviews. This is particularly suspicious if reviews are either 1* or 5*, as they were likely written to inflate or deflate a score.
6. Overly superfluous language
Watch out for hyperbolic language and phrasing. Fake reviews typically contain an excess of exclamation marks and words like “wonderful”, “fantastic” and “amazing”. Real reviews are more likely to focus on specific features about the item or venue, rather than relying on vague and superfluous language.
7. The user has left reviews from places all over the world
Reviews that jump from country to country over a short space of time could indicate a global jetsetter, or it could imply that an individual is writing counterfeit reviews for multiple firms across different countries. Be particularly wary if the types of products they are reviewing are also similar.
8. Mentions of names, vouchers, free products or other incentives
Incentivised reviews are written by individuals who have left a positive review in exchange for a reward, which could be a product discount or freebie. Reviews containing people’s names, vouchers, free products, or other enticements could be incentivised.
Lots of use of ‘I’ and ‘me’
If the review relies heavily on the first person or uses many personal pronouns, such as “me” and “I”, it could be fake. That’s because false reviewers often use personal pronouns to try to make themselves seem more legitimate when they are lying. On the other hand, genuine reviews tend to contain more concrete nouns.
A lot of scene-setting
Research has found that honest reviews are more likely to get straight to the point and use concrete nouns and facts i.e. mentioning specific products on the menu, rather than ambiguous descriptions. By trying too hard to convince the reader of their authenticity, fake reviewers might spend more time setting the scene and avoid talking about the actual product itself.
The reviewer isn’t a verified purchaser
Being verified is crucial for transparency. Platforms such as Amazon indicate whether a reviewer has been verified or not. Those profiles that aren’t verified, don’t include a profile picture, and use common names such as ‘John Smith’ are likelier to be fake.
Look for reviews from verified purchasers. Many online retailers will indicate whether or not a review was written by one, which can help to ensure that the review is genuine.
Check the reviews on multiple platforms. If the reviews are overwhelmingly positive on one platform but overwhelmingly negative on another, it may be a sign that they are fake.
Technology is key
These tips are a guide to spotting fake reviews, but it is very difficult and time-consuming to try and apply this approach to several reviews for a product you are looking at. That’s why technology like ours exists to do the heavy lifting for you and to let you know whether reviews are likely to be real or fake with a high degree of accuracy.
Our sophisticated AI is trained in spotting characteristics like the above – and more – to determine which reviews are suspicious. You can browse our accurate database of restaurants in the UK (with fake reviews downweighted) here.
To find out more about how we can help protect your business, get in touch on email@example.com
Written by Ella Patenall on February 28, 2023