If you’ve ditched brick and mortar stores for the convenience of one-click shopping from your couch, you probably rely on Amazon reviews to make decisions.
The problem: How do you know if a review is legitimate or fake?
Companies promoting their products with fake reviews have gotten a lot more sophisticated. They are moving away from reviews generated by robots and those written by foreign workers with limited English skills because Amazon’s algorithms have become smart enough to detect them.
Instead, they are creating private groups on platforms like Facebook to recruit people to buy their products. They usually offer a full refund via PayPal in exchange for a five-star review. About 15% offer a commission in addition to the refund, according to a January 2021 research article called “The Fake Review Market.”
While the researchers note that Amazon eventually removes about a third of fake reviews, there is an average lag of more than 100 days between when a fake review is posted and its removal. That provides plenty of time for customers to waste their money on a low-quality product and even those that might be unsafe.
How to tell if Amazon reviews are fake
There is no foolproof way to tell legitimate reviews from fake ones. Also, since many of these fake review writers have technically purchased the item, seeing the “Verified Purchase” tag in a review makes less and less sense. But these five tactics will help you spot fake Amazon reviews.
1. Use a browser extension or application
One of the easiest ways to avoid being misled by fake five-star ratings is to use online tools like Fakespot or ReviewMeta. They both have browser extensions, along with apps for Android and iOS, so you can automatically see if a product has low-quality reviews when you’re shopping. You can also cut and paste a product page URL into any of the tools to get an analysis.
Fakespot rates reviews not only on Amazon, but also on eBay, Best Buy, Sephora, and Walmart. Provide a letter grade that rates the quality of the reviews, rather than the product. So when Fakespot gives an “A” rating it doesn’t mean the product is excellent. Says the reviews appear to be legit. Also, an “F” rating means that the algorithm detected a lot of counterfeits, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is terrible.
ReviewMeta only works with Amazon. Analyze a product page and filter reviews that its algorithm marks as untrustworthy. It tells you the percentage of reviews you have leaked and gives the article an adjusted rating.
For example, an electric toothbrush recently purchased by Yours Truly had a 4.5-star rating on Amazon. ReviewMeta filtered 26% of reviews and adjusted the rating to 4.3 stars.
2. Look for reviews with 2, 3 or 4 stars
Typically, companies pay for five-star ratings or pay fake reviewers to leave one-star reviews for a competing product. Look for moderate reviews with two, three or four stars where the reviewer has left detailed comments. You are more likely to have a realistic idea of the pros and cons of the article.
Be suspicious of a lot of reviews that are very short, whether positive or negative. Also, if a product has a ton of five-star reviews, a few one-star reviews, and even fewer in between, it should activate your spider senses. Overly positive five-star reviews are most likely paid for, while one-star reviews are from real customers who wasted their money on the item.
3. Research the product on other sites
Look beyond Amazon and see what the reviewers on other sites have to say, especially if you’re making a big purchase. YouTube is a particularly valuable resource for honest product reviews. Reviewers often have experience with the particular type of product, plus you will have a better idea of its appearance and function, even if the video quality is not great.
4. Read the product questions and answers
It’s easy to write a glowing review that generically describes how great something is. But the question and answer section that contains answers to frequently asked questions from customers gets much more detailed. There is no guarantee that someone who works for the company is not answering some of the questions. But if something has a lot of criticism, you should be able to get a decent picture of the product. Instead of finding out if people love it or hate it, you’ll find details like whether the product has been well maintained, how difficult it was to assemble, or whether the color matched what was shown in the photo.
5. Use the timestamp filter
Typically, a business will hire a group of people to write fake reviews about a product at the same time. While Amazon usually shows you its top reviews first, you can switch to filter by the most recent. If you find a flood of five-star reviews or one star that was left in a window of a few days, those reviews are likely fake.
What should you do if you are misled by a false review?
If you believe a review is false, you can notify Amazon by clicking “report abuse” regardless of whether you purchased the product. But what if you already paid for the product and it was not what you expected? Most products shipped from the Amazon.com or Amazon warehouse can be returned within 30 days of receipt. However, some third-party vendors have their own policies. Be sure to check the return policy before buying from a third party.
Be extremely cautious when buying certain products on Amazon that require regulation – think helmets, car seats, wall-plug items, cosmetics, and over-the-counter medications. It’s one thing to spend money on a pair of shoes that didn’t live up to the reviews. But don’t give fake reviewers a chance to sell you anything that could endanger your health and safety in any way.
Robin Hartill is a Certified Financial Planner and Senior Writer at The Penny Hoarder. Write Dear Penny’s personal finance advice column. Send your misleading money questions to [email protected]