Hundreds of thousands ready to write fake reviews : Internet Scambusters #986
Fake reviews are the curse of online shopping. There are so many; they likely outnumber genuine versions by a significant amount.
The reason -- firms selling phony comments in bulk for just a few dollars a time and a steady supply of hundreds of thousands of people willing to write them.
In this week's issue, we'll explain how these scammers operate, and what you can do to steer clear of them.
Let's get started…
How to Steer Clear of Fake Review Scams
The Internet has brought us competitive shopping choices beyond anything we could have imagined 10 years ago. But that very situation has also delivered a lucrative opportunity for scammers -- fake reviews.
The scam started with payments to freelancers for one-off commentaries and spread through free or discounted products or refunds for online buyers and, later, influencers paid to review and recommend. Some were no doubt genuine assessments and, for those that weren't, we didn't know any better.
Now we're mostly wise to these phonies. But the scam has moved into a whole new arena -- massive bulk reviews and the businesses that have sprung up to produce them. It's become a whole new industry!
A report from PC Magazine recently suggested there are hundreds of thousands of people providing fake reviews globally.
There are even firms that compile lists of people and organizations willing to write fraudulent reports, which they then sell to other scammers. They also provide rules and guides on how to make reviews seem genuine.
A study by a security outfit called Safety Detectives earlier this year found a database listing 200,000 people who were willing to write fake comments on Amazon. The list is operated by a scam ring that sends product names that these "accomplices" buy on Amazon to provide 5-star reviews.
Amazon then, unknowingly, marks the reviews as a "verified purchase," while the buyer gets a full refund from the original suppliers and keeps the product.
(In case you're tempted to follow this route, know that you have to provide confidential information, including bank sign-on details, to the scammers -- and you know where that could lead! Furthermore, that big database has leaked onto the Internet, revealing the identity and lots of other information about the phony reviewers.)
Depending on the volume, commentaries are being sold at just three or four dollars a pop. So, let's say 50 of them could be bought for around $200, chickenfeed in the world of retailing.
Online providers, from big-name stores to travel websites, are constantly removing these crooked reviews as soon as they're identified. But they just can't keep up with the torrent.
Even the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can't stem the flow, despite sending out more than 700 notices of penalty offenses to top companies and advertisers last month, warning of fines of more than $40,000 for breaches of regulations relating to product reviews and endorsements.
How to Spot and Avoid Fake Reviews
There are a few red flags that indicate that a review is not genuine, the most common of which are one-liners. A few of these might be genuine, but most are fakes.
Here are some other safeguards you can take:
- Be wary of all five-star reviews. Avoid making a buying decision based on these alone, or at least read the actual reviews, which should be varied enough to suggest they come from different sources.
- Instead, focus on three- and four-star reviews which are probably genuine and fair assessments of the pros and cons. Sometimes, the lower ranking reviews -- one and two stars -- have been paid for by a product competitor.
- Also, don't make buying decisions purely on quoted endorsements shown on a website. Search for other opinions not connected with the site or its products. Say, you're booking a hotel whose website is full of praise. Do a search on the hotel name for other views and opinions.
- Look for poor grammar and spelling. Although some genuine reports may include these since they come from reviewers whose native language is not English, taken in conjunction with other red flags, they signal a likely review scam.
- Also, check if the same or similar wording is used in more than one review.
- Don't get taken in by reviews that use photos or videos. Again, these may be genuine, but those scam review agencies also tell their accomplices to add them to make them seem more authentic.
Four out of five of us admitted in a recent survey that reviews influence our buying decisions. That's probably not surprising given the wide choices we encounter online. But what's more worrying is that many of those people admitted in a survey that they weren't confident they could spot a fake.
Make sure you're not one of them by adopting a skeptical attitude to reviews and following our guidelines. With holiday shopping season underway, it's more important than ever to be on the alert for fake reviews.
This Week's Scam Alerts
- Open enrollment for Medicare applicants and members is in full swing right now. If you're one of them, you have rights to prevent being scammed: Insurers can only give you information about products you request on a scope of appointment form; they can't set time limits for you to sign up other than the December 7 closing deadline; they can't threaten to suspend existing coverage, offer gifts, or suggest Medicare backs their plan.
- More than 200 apps on Google's Play Store were found to have malware known as GriftHorse encoded into them. Most if not all have been removed by Google, but not from other Android app sites, and not before half a million people downloaded them. Run a security scan now.
- If you're a news streamer -- you watch event and product announcements live -- make sure you're on the right site for doing so. Apple's recent announcement of new devices was preceded by a YouTube scam pretending to be from Apple, which was used to promote dubious investments. An estimated 30,000 victims tuned in.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!