The Fake Review Playbook

Sarah Barcatta

Have you ever wondered why on Earth someone might post a fake review? Why would they even bother? Well, after removing 14,000 reviews in 2019, we’ve seen our fair share of fakes and even we’re surprised at the reasons people leave them. The definition of a “Fake” review has evolved as reviews have become more popular. 

The purpose of a review is for customers to have a platform to share their experience, voice their concerns, provide feedback to a business and warn other potential buyers of bad experiences or potentially dodgy business practices. Sometimes, venting publicly is the only way to encourage a business to really hear you. However, as we all know, review platforms aren’t well mediated and reviews can quickly depart from their intended purpose. If fake reviews had personalities, they’d look something like this:

The Competitor 

This fake reviewer’s sole purpose is to damage your business online so that theirs looks better.  Perhaps they’re a new competitor, or an old competitor whose toes have been stood on. They might leave you fake reviews under an alias, or get their friends, family or co-workers to leave fake reviews in order to damage your local SEO Ranking. Whether the business owner knows about it, or whether they’re the ones doing it, it’s one of the most common fake review attacks we see. 

The Paid-Bulk Reviewer

Believe it or not, there’s actually two ways you can profit off writing reviews and this isn’t just for the fake positive reviews.

a) A “local guide” or “point hoarder”
Some platforms, such as Google, incentivise Local Guides with Google products and service freebies as well as awards and achievements to be displayed in the Local Guides Program. Other review sites have a similar arrangements with their most frequent contributors. Someone leaving reviews for volume often has bulk posting sessions where they will target multiple businesses in multiple locations at once with less than genuine reviews, most of the time for businesses they’ve never used. 

b) Review Farms
These are the most commonly thought of type of fake reviewers – these people are either paid by someone to leave false positives, false negatives and in some cases, they may even spam negative reviews and then contact the owner for payment to remove them as a part of a service they offer. 

The Disgruntled Ex-Employee

The first place an ex-employee might seek to vent their anger is publicly. Unsavoury things can happen at the workplace. Some review platforms such as Glassdoor are dedicated to allowing employees the ability to review their workplace and the management in order to recommend or warn to future employees. This can quickly turn sour when ex-employees take out their a personal vendetta against a business or a person within that business via defaming them online. This type of attack can affect your recruitment and retention efforts immensely.

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The Eye for an Eye Customer 

The Eye for and Eye Customer is someone who has had a bad experience – but are hell bent on blowing their experience out of proportion, even to the point of blatantly lying. This is probably the most ambiguous of the fake reviews because while this customer may have had a bad experience,  their review goes beyond sharing a fair and genuine experience or offering feedback for a business and venture into abusive territory.

Usually the intent here is to paint the worst picture of a business they possibly can for a seemingly small transgression or misunderstanding. Some might argue when this review turns from a negative experience that you should just suck it up for, to a straight up fake review – and this is what review platforms have tried to control with their policies. Unfortunately, these type of abusive fakes always slip through the cracks.


The Blackmailer 

You’d be stunned at how many people use fake reviews in order to threaten and blackmail a business into giving them something for free or giving them a refund that they may not be entitled to. In fact, many business owners are afraid to use online review platforms because they’re scared that they will be held ransom to unreasonable demands. Typically, this reviewer will never be satisfied with any answer that doesn’t include “free product/service” or “full refund”. 

The Case of the Mistaken Identity

The most unsuspecting but surprisingly rather common fake review out there. Could you imagine getting a scathing 1-star review only to read it and realise that it’s for the wrong business? Now, we’re not always entirely sure how this happens, perhaps your business name is similar to the one the reviewer was targeting or perhaps you’ve taken over an existing businesses old location. Sometimes, people just make mistakes. But that doesn’t help when your star-rating goes from 4.3 to 3.2 in a matter of weeks. 


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The Personal Attack

Business owners and employees have personal lives outside of work and sometimes this can spill over into their professional world. All too often have we seen cases of angry ex-partners and estranged family members turning to someones business in order to settle scores. It’s ridiculous, we know, but sadly this is something that many business owners are struggling with. The strangest case we ever saw was a fathers business was bombarded with fake 1-star reviews by his daughters school bullies. What would you do in this situation? 

The “Bad By Nature”

There are some industries that are very unforgiving when it comes to online reviews. Surely, you wouldn’t see very many positive review for a Debt Collectors. You might be wondering who would even read the reviews for a Debt Collector – and the answer is – their employers or contractors. Many reviews for these types of businesses aren’t even reviewing the service or the business. We will always stand by our statement that a 1-star review that says “F@!*k off” is never warranted on any review platform. It is neither feedback nor a description of an experience. 

The Sensationalist

Let’s say your business ends up in the media for some not-so-great reasons – or even just appears in a controversial article somewhere as a link or source – how would you respond to the hoards of reviewer’s that come online to damage your business even though they’ve never actually used your service? We call these the sensationalist attacks because it typically goes like this: This person reads an often factually incorrect article or watches news coverage, decides a business, owner or employee is terrible and proceeds to leave a review commenting on the situation or “exposing” a business to unsuspecting readers or potential clients.  We’ve seen extreme cases of this – and it’s not on.

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The Troll

Okay, so this one we had to include because it truly is a whole other type of reviewer. These are the people who, when presented with an opportunity, will make the most offensive, derogatory and ridiculous comments in their review just in order to poke fun and get a reaction out of people. We see these types of people on social media and you can bet they’ve made their way into the review-landscape as well.