How to Spot a Fake Review: 10 Tips and Tricks the Experts Use

Andrew Whitford

Fake reviews are the fake news of the online business world. They can be used to inflate the popularity of a business or bring down a competitor. Either way, they ruin the trust between people online, so it’s good to know how to spot signs of a fake review.

Some people think that it’s easy to spot a fake, and you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that. We’d probably all like to think that we can smell when something is fishy, right? 

Wrong. It turns out that we’re probably wrong about half the time.

A study by Cornell revealed that humans have a 50% hit ratio when it comes to spotting which reviews are real and fake when placed side by side.

Fortunately, they discovered this fact while developing software that in early testing was able to detect fakes with a 90% certainty. While great in theory, it would still require the review platforms to implement this type of sophisticated technology, which they might be reluctant to do if they feel that it flags too many of the reviews that they rely on. The technology will also work better on longer reviews with more words to analyse – short reviews will leave more room for doubt.

10 Signs to Help You Spot a Fake Review

You don’t need sophisticated software (although it helps) to identify a fake review. There are many patterns and signs that can reveal the nature of the reviewer and the validity of their review. No one single factor is always enough to reveal a fake, but each of these items below can be a signal that adds to the probability of a review being fake.

1. The Product or Service Isn’t Described in Detail

Fake reviewers are unlikely to actually have used the product or service they’re reviewing. That’s why many of their reviews (positive or negative) are suspiciously vague. Any review that lacks detail should be taken with a grain of salt regardless – because even if the source of the review is legitimate, if all the review does is jump to conclusions, how can you be sure that you would have felt the same based on that experience?

2. There’s a Spike in Positive (Or Negative) Reviews

A sudden spike in one kind of review could be due to a recent product or service launch – but it could also be a sign of fake reviews. If you notice a lot of similar reviews in a short space of time, with not much happening before or after, and no apparent explanation for the surge – it could be a deliberate effort to manipulate ratings. Keep in mind that some companies will periodically ask all their customers for feedback, which can lead to a natural spike in reviews. So look at each review individually too.

3. Most Reviews Are from Far Away Countries

Digital products and services can, of course, be used by anyone. However, most platforms can track the location of the person leaving a review. So if a person in Russia or India is leaving a review about a restaurant in Melbourne, that’s likely to raise some flags in the system. 

4. The Reviewer Only Leaves One Type of Review

Platforms like Google allow you to see other reviews left by the contributor. If they only leave extremely positive or negative reviews then they may not be a genuine reviewer. Even if they do turn out to be “real” – can you really trust the opinion of someone who only seems to love, or hate, everything?

5. The Names and Pictures Look Generic

Fake reviewers hide behind their anonymity, often using highly generic or borrowed names – and of course, never a picture of what they really look like. If the entire account seems to be generic and anonymous, you should think twice about trusting any of the reviews.

6. The Spelling and Grammar Is Off

Many content farms that specialise in fake reviews will be based in non-English speaking countries. You’ll sometimes be able to spot them due to the bad grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Of course, locals aren’t perfect with that either – but if the review also lacks any real detail about an experience, there is a chance it was posted maliciously from overseas.

7. Too Many Verbs and Pronouns

Language studies have found that liars tend to use more verbs and pronouns than people telling the truth. If a review focuses a lot on themselves, what they did, and how they feel – rather than details about what allegedly happened – then it’s more likely to be fake.

8. Too Much Background Information

Similar to the verbs and pronouns pattern, many fake reviewers will provide a lot of background information about the context of them visiting a business or trying out their product or service. This may again be because they haven’t actually experienced the product/services themselves, so they need to fill out the review with a “story” in place of actually providing details about the business itself.

9. The Same Phrases Are Repeated

Fake reviewers often fall back on templates or other common phrases that they rely on when trying to invent a story. If you see that the reviewer has left other reviews that frequently rely on the same phrases, there is a chance that these are not from real experiences.

10. Unnatural Online Behaviour

Platforms like Google can look at and account’s behaviour to see if it appears to match with natural “human-like” activity from other accounts. Remember – Google has an incredible amount of data in this area, sourced from searches, Android, the Google Maps app, GPS, IP locations, and much more. If an account was created 5 minutes before posting the review and never logs in again – there is very little evidence that the user is actually genuine. While that alone may not identify the source as fake, Google would almost certainly be taking this type of thing into account.

Can you really rely on reviews anyway?

Reviews – when used properly to inform – can be a great asset, and it would be a shame if they were rendered useless by fake reviews destroying our trust in everything we read about a business.

The services we offer at Removify are essentially challenging the platforms to police this as strongly as they can, particularly in assisting them with spotting the malicious fakes that are making many businesses suffer unfairly. The systems will never be perfect – but if we don’t try, things will only get worse.

At the end of the day – quality reviews help everyone – consumers can make better choices, and businesses receive constructive feedback. If you aren’t sure what you can rely on anymore, try using the above tips to filter out the more suspicious reviews, then focus on those that really sound like they are objectively describing a real experience.

Has your business been attacked by fake reviews? Reach out and let us see if we can help!

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