If you’ve left brick and mortar stores to shop for the convenience of one click from your couch, chances are you are relying on Amazon reviews to make decisions.
The problem: how do you tell if a review is legitimate or false?
Companies that advertise their products with fake reviews have become much more demanding. They are turning away from bot-generated reviews and those written by foreign workers with limited English skills because Amazon’s algorithms have become smart enough to detect them.
Instead, they form private groups on platforms like Facebook to attract people to buy their products. They usually offer a full refund through PayPal in exchange for a five-star rating. According to a January 2021 research report titled “The Fake Reviews Market,” about 15% offer a commission on top of being refunded.
While researchers find that Amazon ultimately deletes around a third of fake reviews, there is an average lag of over 100 days between posting a fake review and deleting it. This gives customers ample time to waste their money on a poor quality product and even products that may be unsafe.
This is how you can tell if Amazon reviews are fake
There is no foolproof way of distinguishing legitimate reviews from fake ones. Since many of these fake reviewers technically bought the item, seeing the “Verified Purchase” label on a review has become increasingly meaningless. However, these five tactics can help you spot fake Amazon reviews.
1. Use a browser extension or app
One of the easiest ways to avoid being tricked by fake five-star reviews is to use online tools like Fakespot or ReviewMeta. Both have browser extensions, as well as apps for Android and iOS, so you can automatically determine if a product has poor quality reviews when you shop. You can also cut and paste the url of a product page in either tool for analysis.
Fakespot evaluates reviews not only on Amazon, but also on eBay, Best Buy, Sephora and Walmart. It offers a letter grade that rates the quality of the reviews, not the product. So if Fakespot gets an “A” rating, that doesn’t mean the product is great. They say the reviews seem legitimate. Likewise, an “F” rating means that the algorithm has detected a lot of counterfeits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the product is terrible.
ReviewMeta only works with Amazon. It analyzes a product page and filters out the reviews that the algorithm marks as untrustworthy. It shows you what percentage of the reviews have been filtered out and gives the article a customized rating.
For example, an electric toothbrush recently purchased from Yours Truly had an Amazon rating of 4.5 stars. ReviewMeta has filtered out 26% of the ratings and adjusted the rating to 4.3 stars.
2. Look for 2, 3, or 4 star ratings
Typically, companies pay for five-star reviews or they pay fake reviewers to leave one-star reviews for a competing product. Look for moderate two-, three-, or four-star ratings where the reviewer left detailed feedback. You are more likely to get a realistic feel for the item’s pros and cons.
Be suspicious of a series of reviews that are very brief, whether they are positive or negative. When a product has a number of five-star ratings, a few one-star ratings, and even fewer in between, it should trigger your insane senses. Chances are the overly positive five star reviews were paid for while the one star reviews were from actual customers who wasted their money on the item.
3. Research the product on other websites
Look beyond Amazon and see what reviewers have to say on other sites, especially if you’re making a big purchase. YouTube is a particularly valuable resource for honest product reviews. The reviewers often have expertise in relation to the specific product type. It also gives you a better sense of how it looks and works, even if the video quality is not particularly good.
4. Read the questions and answers about the product
It’s easy to write a glowing review that broadly describes how great something is. However, the Q&A section, which has answers to common customer questions, becomes much more detailed. There is no guarantee that someone who works for the company will not answer some of the questions. But when something has a lot of reviews, you should be able to get a decent picture of the product. Instead of finding out if people loved or hated it, find out details like whether the product performed well, how difficult it was to assemble, or if the color was the same as the one shown in the photo.
5. Use the timestamp filter
A company typically recruits a group of people to write fake reviews for a product at the same time. While Amazon will usually show you the best reviews first, you can switch to filtering on the latest reviews. If you find a deluge of five- or one-star reviews left within a window of a few days, those reviews are likely fake.
What should you do if you are scammed by a fake review?
If you think a review is fake, you can notify Amazon by clicking “Report Abuse” regardless of whether you purchased the product. But what if you’ve already paid for the product and it didn’t meet your expectations? Most products shipped from Amazon.com or the Amazon warehouse can be returned within 30 days of receipt. However, some third-party providers have their own guidelines. Be sure to check the return policy before buying from a third party.
Use extreme caution when purchasing certain products on Amazon that require regulation – think helmets, car seats, items that attach to a wall, cosmetics, and over-the-counter medications. It’s one thing to waste money on a pair of shoes that didn’t live up to the reviews. However, do not give fake reviewers an opportunity to sell you something that could compromise your health and safety in any way.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advisory column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]