7 ways to spot and sidestep fake reviews: Internet Scambusters #778
It's a fair bet that, for some products at least, there are more fake reviews online than there are genuine opinions.
But how do you sort the scam reviews from valuable genuine opinions about something you're considering buying?
We'll give you the lowdown in this week's issue, along with a warning about some popular file-cleaning software that turned out to be infected with malware.
Let's get started...
Don't Let Fake Reviews Trick You
There used to be a time when product reviews and product comparison sites served a really useful purpose in helping us make decisions about what to buy.
Unfortunately, it's no longer that simple. More and more fake reviews are appearing on the Internet, making it tough for consumers to tell genuine opinions from fake and paid-for reviews.
Two recent examples:
When former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton published a biographical account of her campaign, almost overnight there were 500 reviews of the book on Amazon, half of them praising it and the other half criticizing it.
To be genuine would have required these so-called reviewers to read the book overnight and then compose their review. Clearly, these writers had a political axe to grind, one way or the other. Informed opinion went out the window!
In a quite different field and for totally different commercial reasons, a company that sold trampolines was recently caught out using what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called "misleading review websites and deceptive endorsements."
The firm claimed its product had been named Trampoline of the Year by "Trampoline Safety of America." This endorsement came complete with a logo for this supposed safety organization and a link to a statement that they weren't paid for product reviews,
Another supposed organization -- the Bureau of Trampoline Review, which claimed to be an independent research outfit -- also named products from the same company as being among the best.
The only problem: the trampoline seller was behind both organizations. They were also allegedly responsible for supportive blog comments from someone calling themselves "Trampoline Mom."
"Favorable buzz can give a product a bounce, but advertisers can take a legal tumble by creating fake review sites, using misleading third-party endorsements or seals, or touting their products on independent sites without disclosing that the recommendation came from someone connected to the company," the FTC warned.
But this is more than a problem about trampoline safety or politically motivated book reviews.
The fact is individuals and organizations have become adept at misleading the public using fake or dubious reviews or comparisons.
Healthy skepticism is the key to avoiding this pitfall. Here are 7 other actions you can take.
1. When reading star-scoring review sites like Amazon and other retailers, don't take much notice if there are only a couple of reviews. Even if they're genuine, they fail to give you a balanced view of the product you're considering.
2. When there are plenty of reviews, focus your attention on the mid-range scores (3 stars in Amazon's case). Fake reviewers tend to score 5 or 1, depending on their viewpoint, whereas 3-star scorers usually don't have an axe to grind.
3. If you're searching for the "best" of a particular product, especially software, using that particular word -- say "best photo editing software" -- be extremely cautious.
You can generally trust comparisons by truly independent sources such as well-known publications -- say a camera magazine in the example we've just given.
But comparison sites that label themselves as "best" this or that often are either paid to rate certain products highly or they get paid a commission for sales they generate.
4. Once you have a particular product brand or two in mind, look for reviews from several different sources. Again, select those that come from respected publications or well-known independent review sites.
5. Don't be taken in by logos and apparent endorsements. It's easy and perfectly legitimate to set up an organization with an independent-sounding name.
In the trampoline case mentioned, the two organizations they apparently invented actually had their own websites that seemed to imply they were genuine,
Where the trampoline firm fell down was in not disclosing their relationship with the sites and making misleading claims about their membership and integrity.
Logos mean little these days and many scammers sprinkle them liberally on their websites.
6. There are several websites that actually check on and publicize fake reviews. Check them out.
We can't vouch for its accuracy but these include Fakespot.com, which claims to have analyzed more than 700 million Amazon reviews and 20,000 TripAdvisor reviews, among others.
It only works for a few big sites, like Amazon and Yelp, but you simply paste in the address line of the product from your browser, click "Analyze" and wait for a few seconds.
In the case of the Clinton book, which had more than 1,400 Amazon reviews at the time of writing, the analysis returned a result of 96.1% low quality reviews.
By comparison, we checked out a random brand of trampoline with 878 reviews and the Fakespot result was 80% high quality reviews.
7. Finally, if you are buying on the basis of reviews you've read, check out the returns policy of the retailer.
If they let you return the product within a reasonable period, say 30 days, no questions asked, then you might be able to take a chance, fake review or not.
Alert of the Week
If you use the file clean-up application CCleaner, software publisher Avast says more than 2 million users have been running a malware-infected version of the program.
This would include new users and those who updated their existing version to the infected one between August 15 and September 12.
Learn more about the issue and what to do if you are using an infected version.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!
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