The FTC has brought a number of cases involving online reviews — likely more than any law enforcement agency in the world. Some involved companies that posted fake reviews of their own products and services. Others involved reviews by people who might have been real customers or users of a product but didn’t say that they’d been paid to write a positive review.
When you use online reviews to help you make decisions, it pays to take some time and think critically about the source of the information. What do you know about this reviewer? Or about the site or platform where you’re reading the review?
For years, our main piece of advice on using reviews has been to look at a variety of sources, including well-known websites that have credible and impartial expert reviews. That’s still a very good place to start. But here are some other tips for using online reviews and deciding when to be skeptical:
- Check how recent the reviews are, and watch for a burst of reviews over a short period of time. That can sometimes mean the reviews are fake.
- Check if the reviewer has written other reviews. If so, read those to get a better sense of how much to trust that reviewer. But if it seems that the reviewer has created an account just to write one review for one product, that review may be fake.
- Don’t assume that, just by looking, you can spot the difference between a real review and a fake one. Some reviews may look suspicious, and some may look real, but it can often be nearly impossible to tell for sure. For example, you already know to watch out for reviews that seem too positive to be real, but some fake positive reviews give less than the highest possible rating in order to seem more credible.
- Remember that fake reviews are not always positive. Sometimes, a company might post fake negative reviews to harm a competitor.
You won’t always know if a reviewer got something — like a free product — in exchange for writing a review. But, on some websites, you’ll see a label or badge next to the review that tells you the reviewer got an incentive. How you weigh those reviews is up to you.