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Fake Reviews: How to Spot Them and What Actions Your Business Can Take

By Ron Welty, Founder & Chief Client Officer

Online reviews have become a powerful tool in convincing a customer to buy (or not to buy). In fact, customers are willing to spend 31 percent more with businesses that boast excellent reviews, while 94 percent of consumers say a negative review can convince them to avoid a business. But buyer and brand beware: The online marketplace can be a dark place.

Online reviews can be easy to manipulate, meaning anyone can essentially leave a fake review about a company or product. While it’s crucial for all brands to closely monitor what is being said about them online, it can be challenging to spot a fake review and have it removed from a platform.

How to Spot Fake Reviews

Brands often struggle to distinguish between a truly negative review and a fake bad review. “The detection of [a fake review] is a very difficult issue,” Northwestern University Marketing Professor Edward C. Malthouse told the New York Times. “How can you tell if I’m just someone who’s being paid to write a review versus a genuine review?”

It’s a great question, and one that many brands often find themselves asking. To help make the distinction between a genuine review and a fake review, train your team to look for some of the tell-tale signs. According to FakeSpot, a fake review detection company, you should consider:

  • Language patterns: Do many of your negative reviews sound suspiciously similar? Many fake reviewers will use the same language when reviewing brands on different platforms and about different products.
  • Language choices: Do the wording choices seem a little off to you? Fake reviewers typically aren’t native English speakers, so you might notice some weird language in a fake review. For example, a fake reviewer might refer to something as costing “100 USD,” whereas a real American reviewer would never refer to money as “USD.”
  • Excessive language: Over-the-top reviews can be cause for concern. Many fake reviews use language that is either excessively positive or extremely negative.
  • Dates of the reviews: When a bunch of negative reviews are submitted on the same day, it’s a good sign that the reviews may be fake. Reviews should be written over extended periods of time, not all at once.
  • Reviewer’s profile: When you click a reviewer’s name, what kind of reviews does this person leave? A real reviewer typically leaves a mix of positive, neutral, and negative reviews from a variety of brands. Fake reviewers typically only ever leave very negative reviews and/or very positive reviews for companies in one specific industry.
  • Googling the reviewer: Does the reviewer exist outside of the review platform? Google the reviewer’s first and last name to see if the results match with a person with a Facebook or Twitter account. If so, do they interact with other humans, or do they just exist?

How to Deal with Fake Bad Reviews

Negative reviews can be damaging to your brand’s reputation. When you spot a fake review, you’ll want to deal with it quickly to avoid turning potential customers off to your brand. There are several different actions you can take to deal with a fake review:

Respond to the Fake Review

There is no best practice for whether you should respond to a fake review. Some companies may choose to ignore them, as responding might draw more attention to the fake review. Others may choose to respond to the review to alert customers that it is false. 

No matter what your company decides, be sure to stay consistent with your strategy. For example, if you respond to all reviews, but not a fake review, customers might assume that the other negative posts are accurate and that’s why you’re not responding to the fake post.

If you decide to respond to a fake review, don’t accuse the reviewer of anything. Rather, treat it like any other negative review. Draft a polite response that addresses the points made in the review and ask to resolve the issue offline.

Ask the Review Platform to Take the Fake Review Down

It’s not only unethical but also a breach of rules for most reputable review platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, to post negative reviews about your competitors. It’s also a violation to post positive reviews about your own business if you’re the owner, an associate, or family or friend who’s not a legitimate customer. 

The platforms, themselves, regularly monitor reviews and remove any reviews that are in violation of their guidelines. Amazon, for example, says it prevented more than 13 million fake reviews and “took action” against more than 5 million accounts in 2018. Still, a fake review can fall through the cracks.

For example, BuzzFeed News recently reported one woman who had bought hundreds of products on Amazon and given them five-star reviews in exchange for reimbursement from sellers. Her reviews, which were given credibility through her purchase history, went undetected by Amazon.

It’s important for your own internal team to monitor review platforms as well. For many review platforms, you can ask to remove a fake review with just a few clicks. On Amazon, for example, go to the product details page of your product, click on the fake review, and click “report abuse.” In the pop-up window that will open, indicate the reason for your request (e.g., inappropriate language, deceitful review, etc.).

Keep in mind, it can be challenging to successfully have a review platform take down a fake review. Remember, reviews that are “unfair” or don’t explicitly violate the platform’s guidelines won’t be taken down. Avoid reporting multiple reviews at once, as it may harm your reputation on the platform, and only report a review if there are one or several violations.

Pursue Legal Action with a Defamation Lawsuit

SLAPP lawsuits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) can be one way for businesses to fight defamation from online reviews. According to Cornell Law School, typical claims underlying a SLAPP suit include libel, slander, or restraint of business. 
In most cases, SLAPP lawsuits never go to court, as it would require a fake reviewer to spend money to defend their case. Instead, these suits act more so to intimidate, censor, disparage, burden, or punish fake reviewers from publishing falsified information about a company.

In the interest of protecting free speech, however, 29 states, including California and New York, have adopted anti-SLAPP laws that restrict businesses from intimidating reviewers with lawsuits. In these instances, businesses that are serious about pursuing legal action against a fake review can file a defamation lawsuit.

Yelp, Inc. v Hadeed Carpet Cleaning serves as one example of a successful defamation case. Hadeed served a subpoena on Yelp seeking the identity of seven anonymous Yelp reviewers who had written negative reviews of the carpet cleaning service. The court found that Hadeed established a legitimate, good faith basis that the reviews were, indeed, defamatory, and Yelp was required to comply with it.

Where to Find Trusted Reviews

In today’s world, it can be challenging for your current and prospective customers to know what to believe online. It’s important for brands to be transparent and help point consumers toward reviews they can trust.  

“Consumers should be aware of how reviews can be manipulated but may not be able to avoid them entirely,” FakeSpot Chief Operating Officer Rob Gross told the New York Times. He advised sorting reviews by “most recent,” which can help illuminate any issues. He also recommended asking friends and family about products and checking independent resources like Consumer Reports

Additionally, brands can leverage voice of the customer tools like customer satisfaction surveys to gather feedback from customers at the right moments, like when a customer completes a transaction at the register or online.

Monitoring Online Reviews

Constant vigilance is crucial to understanding how customers think and feel about your brand. Sentiment analysis through the use of natural language processing can help automate this process and provide a more digestible overview of your brand perception (e.g., positive, neutral, negative) and quickly identify malicious activity. 

IntelliShop has the customer experience solutions to help audit your customer feedback, social media, review platforms, and more to verify authentic customer experiences online. When you partner with us, we’ll take the time to measure your customer experience and provide a detailed, actionable strategy to best protect your brand. Contact IntelliShop today to request a consultation.