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Online comparison sites can be great ways to check out products you want to try or buy. But are those reviews and rankings objective, accurate, and unbiased? It’s a question to always ask, and here’s why: Some online product reviews and rankings might be influenced by advertiser payments.

According to the FTC, a company called LendEDU and its operators did just that. The company promoted lendedu.com as a resource where people could confidently comparison shop financial products – including private student loans – to help save time and money. LendEDU had rate tables, rankings, star ratings, and reviews for what it claimed were the best companies offering financial products. The company said this information was objective, accurate, and unbiased. But, according to the FTC, LendEDU’s rankings and ratings were based on payment from the companies.

The FTC also says that LendEDU posted fake consumer reviews of its own website. When the FTC took a closer look, it found that lendedu.com’s positive customer reviews were nearly all written by LendEDU employees, friends, family members, and associates.

According to the FTC settlement, LendEDU must stop its misrepresentations and tell people if it gets money for promoting products. LendEDU will also disclose any relationship that could affect a product endorsement.

If you plan on buying anything based on online reviews or ratings:

• Consider the source of the reviews before deciding to buy or pass. Reviews from trusted and impartial experts and organizations are worth more than a single customer review or one found on a website you’ve never heard of.

• Compare online reviews from more than one source. You can get a better idea about a company, product, or service from reading reviews on several types of websites, including retail or shopping comparison sites. Also check out trusted sites that specialize in reviewing products with expert reviews and comparisons.

For more information, check out this video.

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