Spotting and Dodging Fake Reviews


You may have seen that TripAdvisor have been under the microscope this week, with popular consumer champions Which? accusing them of failing to stop hotels from posting large numbers of what appear to be fake reviews. Although TripAdvisor’s UK director has pushed back, stating that the company goes after false reviews “very aggressively”, it’s always important to have your guard up. Unfortunately, even when companies do what they can to keep fake reviews off their site, it’s all too easy for unscrupulous brands to pay people for fabricated feedback.

Do people really speak like that?

When you’re reading reviews, ask yourself whether they sound natural. Real human beings don’t regurgitate marketing lines for the products that they’ve just bought, however much they love them. So if a review is full of catchy slogan and jargon then it’s good to be a little bit sceptical.

If there are lots of reviews using the same language, this could be a red flag too. The same unusual phrases, particular adjectives or idiosyncratic grammar usage popping up in more than one review is a sign that the same person has been writing them.

The length of the review is also a factor here. Some studies have found that really short reviews, with just a couple of words and no real details about the product, are more likely to be fake. Overly long reviews can also be suspicious – several paragraphs listing product benefits without really giving any details from the person’s own experience may well be from a deceitful marketing team. Just ask yourself: do people really speak like that?

Look for verification – but don’t rely on it

Many sites, including Trustpilot, will give reviews verification ticks. This lets you know that the reviews site or marketplace can confirm that the review has been posted by somebody who definitely did buy the product. It’s a good place to start, but also worth remembering that sellers do have ways of gaming this. Some sellers will simply ask the people that they’re paying for false reviews to complete a purchase first so that they get the verification badge.

Focus on star distribution

A product or service with lots of reviews in the 1 and 5-star categories but nothing in between is something to be cautious about: it’s rare that something is this polarising, and more likely that the 1-star reviews reflect reality while the 5-star reviews have been faked.

When a product does have plenty of 3 and 4-star ratings, these are the ones that you want to pay attention to. They’re much more likely to give you a balanced and well-rounded view of what you’re buying, and will usually share both the positive features and any downsides.

Once you’ve sorted through the reviews and chosen a purchase that seems reliable, you can help the fight against fake reviews by leaving your own feedback. Balanced reviews from genuine buyers can really help consumers make good decisions about what they’re buying, and ensure that fewer people get ripped off.

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