How to spot fake online reviews

Retailers file lawsuits to stop fake review writers

By Louis Bolden - Investigative Reporter

Have you ever bought that five star-rated item online, only to find out it didn't work? It turns out that happens more often than you'd think. 

Experts said fake reviews are taking over the internet, more specifically on Amazon.
In fact, some researchers say about 30 percent of the reviews you see online are fake. 

News 6 uncovered that companies contact people through social media, offering freebies or in some cases, money, in return for a positive review. 

Not only are the fake reviews frustrating and unethical, they can lead to legal action.

As a busy mom, Rabecca Roska rarely has time to shop, so she often does it online. She said she pays attention to reviews, but often ends up disappointed.

"What they're advertising via their pictures often when you get it, the pictures just were not accurate," Roska said.

For many people "5 stars" can make all the difference before they purchase online.

They are seemingly an endorsement from other shoppers, but News 6 has learned in some cases they aren't even real.

Spotting fake reviews

Spotting fake reviews has become Tommy Noonan's life. He started the website www.reviewmeta.com in college. 

"The sellers are getting screwed over, the cheaters are winning and it makes me sad," Noonan said.

Noonan has focused much of his attention on the world's largest retailer Amazon.

His website has processed more than 200 million Amazon reviews and found 11.3% of them to be untrustworthy. That's more than 2.2 million bogus reviews.

"A lot of sellers that actually have quality products will kind of seed their reviews with fake ones, so that they can start generating sales so they can get some real reviews," he said.

Fakespot.com is a similar site.

Its owner Saoud Khalifah estimates almost 30% of reviews on Amazon are fake.

"It's a free-for-all, so if people want to write free reviews they're going to do it, and with the money to be made im not shocked there are so many," he said.

Both websites use an algorithm that combines how many reviews have been removed, along with the number of errors.

They combine it all into an overall grade or adjusted rating.

Experts said the most common products with fake reviews are electronics. So with Roska's help, we demonstrate how to check reviews on products like a security camera selling on Amazon for $59.98. The item has four stars and 329 customer reviews.

We copied and pasted the URL into the Fakespot website and found Amazon had already removed more 400 reviews from the listing.

The Fakespot review grade of the product is an "F." The grade does not mean the product is bad.  It means you can't trust the reviews.

Roska says having a service to review the reviews is a time saver. "I don’t want to sit here and play Dick Tracy trying to figure out if this is really legit," Roska said. "Yeah I think that would be a really good service."

Amazon is fighting back. The company is filing more than 1-thousand lawsuits to stop the fake review writers and posters.

"We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies," a company spokesperson wrote in a statement.

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