How to spot fake online reviews

Oct. 14, 2021

By Hannah Rhodes, Consumer Watchdog Associate

On Oct. 13, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put hundreds of companies nationwide on notice that if they use fabricated endorsements to deceive consumers, they could face financial penalties up to $43,793 per violation.  

A form of endorsement is a fake review, which can be used to trick a consumer into purchasing a product. A fake review could be done by the company itself, whether it is to benefit their own product or to use negative reviews against a competitor. Another way fake reviews occur is when a company sends a product to a consumer for free and the consumer leaves a positive review with no mention of how they received the product. There may be an unwritten understanding that it was a quid pro quo. 

The director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine said, “Fake reviews and other forms of deceptive endorsements cheat consumers and undercut honest businesses.” 

With the overwhelming number of reviews found both on website listings and social media, we pulled together the best tips to spot fake reviews when shopping online:
  • Look at the dates of the reviews. If there are many reviews in a short period of time, it can be an indication that the reviews are fake. A listing that has a diverse range of reviews from different periods of time can be more trustworthy. 

  • The language of the review can tell you a lot. A study done by Cornell University researchers looking at real and fake hotel reviews found that the real reviews used straightforward language. They said “hotel”, “bathroom” and “check-in” versus fake story-telling reviews that used “vacation”, “business trip” and “my husband.” 

  • Check out the reviewer. A generic sounding name can be an indication that the review was made by a fake account. If a reviewer has made only one review on one product, it could be a fake review. 

  • Beware of social media reviews. The FTC guidelines on disclosures require influencers to reveal that they have a financial, employment, personal or family relationship with a brand when promoting their product. Popular social media influencers have come under scrutiny for not disclosing their relationship with a brand while telling their audience to purchase or use a product. 

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When leaving an honest review, most customers aren’t overly positive or negative. They could have a good experience, but still have criticism on one aspect. If it sounds like the best thing that’s ever been sold, there’s room to be skeptical.