How to Spot a Fake Online Product Review

Rebecca Greenfield
How to Spot a Fake Online Product Review

We didn't need a New York Times article to bring our attention to the fact that certain companies bribe their customers for good Internet reviews in exchange for rebates. The fake reviews speak for themselves. Internet reviews can push precious sales away from retailers, which is why certain companies have taken to buying customer satisfaction, like VIP Deals, which gave full refunds to customers who reviewed their Kindle case with "100 percent, perfect FIVE-STAR scores" on, as the Times's David Streitfeld reports. But this kind of thing happens all the time, on all sorts of sites. For suspicious consumer, there are a few ways to spot these faux compliments.

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Too many 5 star ratings. As of this moment, VIP Deals, which sells Kindle accessories has 5,624 reviews with an average rating of 4.9 starts. We can't imagine over 5,000 people taking that time to be enthusiastic about an accessory. Beyond enthusiasm, as reviewers ourselves, we reserve that fifth star for something truly outstanding. A delicious and affordable Thai restaurant or the perfect yoga studio -- yes, we're yoga types -- not an accessory that closely resembles all the other brands of that same accessory. We imagine some other customers operate like us and would have doled out respectable four stars. But, as you can see to the right, it's all pages and pages of fives. And to get a 4.9 average out of almost 6,000 reviews, there can't be many defectors. 

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Nobody cares this much about a Kindle case. That 5,000 people bothered to review a Kindle Fire case doesn't make sense. If reviewers are anything like commenters, they usually chime in out of anger and sometimes say something out of pure joy. Where are the trolls? There aren't any because this isn't the type of issue or product that inspires much enthusiasm in either direction. Yet, we see so many enthused reviews. 

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Sometimes the reviews don't match the stars. Though VIP Deals didn't demand five star reviews, it conveniently mentioned it in its letter right above the part about getting the product for free. Perhaps fearful that anything but a five star review would mar chances of getting the full rebate, sometimes the stars don't match the sentiments. Take this review, for example: "Product came on time. I didn't like it leather case bc leather case corner damageing the carbon fiber shield on the Galaxy. other wise works good and looks good," writes Avtar J. That doesn't sound like a five star review to us. The prime function of a tablet case is to protect the device. This customer found his damaging. That makes it useless, worthy of zero stars.

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VIP Deals denies the whole thing, telling Streitfeld, "you're totally off base." But these reviews are way too laudatory to be true. Oh, yeah, and this letter that says "In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free in exchange for a review," is pretty damning, too.

Image via Shutterstock by Valua Vitaly