The fake review problem is growing. Here’s how to spot them.

The popularity of online reviews is booming. Unfortunately, so is the use of fake reviews.

Since 92% of consumers now read online reviews, and star ratings are the #1 factor consumers use to evaluate businesses, reviews can make or break a growing brand. A rave review from a customer who is passionate about your products or services is one of the quickest ways to build credibility and trust for your brand.   

Perhaps it’s not surprising in this age of fake news that we must deal with fake reviews. And because of these high stakes, fake reviews also are becoming more popular. It’s fairly simple for unscrupulous business owners to pay someone to write and submit fake reviews, and many times bogus reviews are hard to tell from the real thing.

Fighting back against fakes

To quickly get an opinion on whether a review on Amazon, Yelp or TripAdvisor is authentic, you can copy the the url of the product page in question and paste it into a nifty tool called Fakespot.

The example below shows Fakespot’s evaluation of Amazon reviews for Bose headphones. In this case, the Fakespot ratings are similar to the Amazon ratings, so the Amazon reviews appear to be authentic.

Why trust a computer to spot fake online reviews? In some cases computer programs are able to identify phony reviews with incredible accuracy. A team of researchers at Cornell University built a computer program to spot bogus reviews and tested against a panel of student volunteers.

The research results? Students identified fake reviews less than half the time, while computers using machine learning were able to tag fake reviews about 90 percent of the time. The Cornell University research was used to create a tool called Review Skeptic that enables consumers to test hotel reviews firsthand by pasting in review text.

The bottom line? Consumers should keep in mind that not all reviews are trustworthy. It’s a good practice to do a little extra research. Look carefully at reviews for odd language or those with exceptionally high or low ratings. If a review seems suspicious, it’s worth your time to check out some additional sources.

For example, the Bose headphones shown above also have positive reviews on CNET and Forbes. No guarantee you’ll love them, but better than relying on a single review – or multiple reviews – before you decide to buy.

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