- Check for specificity, nouns, and first-person pronouns.
- Spotting reviews is an art, not a science.
Once seen, they can’t be unseen.
American consumers trust reviews to help them make purchases. Scammers take advantage of this to post fake reviews, juicing the popularity of low-quality items.
Fake reviews have exploded in popularity. Out of 8 billion Amazon reviews checked by Fakespot from 208 through 2020, over 30% were flagged as false. As the world adjusts to an economy that shops increasingly online, the parasitic business of fake reviews will only grow. From 2019 to 2021, global ecommerce rocketed from 3.3 trillion to 4.9 trillion in sales. That's a more than 30% increase in new products sold on shopping sites like Amazon.
Buyers, it seems, have their work cut out for them.
According to bestselling behavioral scientist Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence, New and Revised, there are three proven ways consumers can separate true reviews from false.
How to spot fake reviews
If fake reviews were easy to spot, nobody would pay scammers to post them. Fortunately, we can limit ourselves to spotting three signals that indicate a review is genuine. These signals are specificity, nouns, and first-person pronouns.
A vague review is a red flag. It's tough to write about a chair you've never seen before, let alone plopped your butt in. A fake review uses stock phrases like "the most comfortable X ever" or "the best X I've ever had," while an honest review includes concrete words like "wheels" or "fabric" or "packaging." This is because even the details on something as simple as a pen can be difficult to describe when you're unsure of the squishiness of the grip or the smoothness of the scribble.
Tip: A good rule of thumb is the copy-and-paste rule. If you can copy-and-paste a review to any other item in its category, swap the brand name, and have it make sense, then the review may be fake.
First-person pronouns signal a liar. Apparently, when you're anxious about coming off as genuine, you talk about yourself more. Thus, the basement scammer diligently plugging their scam bots is more likely to use words such as "I" and "me."
Tip: While you're checking for pronouns, note that fake reviews often contain a suspicious number of misspellings. If the review is a grammatical disaster, it's likely fake.
Check the verb-to-noun ratio. If there are more verbs than nouns, that's a red flag. This is because scammers tend to lean on fluffy, anecdotal stories (positive and negative) rather than qualities specific to the product. Sincere reviews include more nouns.
Tip: Practice. Check out this article reviewing cash back credit cards. Are the descriptions copy-and-paste-able? Does the author use too many first-person pronouns? Are there more verbs than nouns? The answer is no, which tells you the review is genuine.
Spotting fake reviews isn't science
If you find these three insights useful, then you're on your way to spotting fake reviews. That said, it's best to be aware that shoppers frequently rely on the principle of "social proof," defined by Cialdini as the tendency to "believe or do what those around them are believing or doing." In this case, shoppers tend to believe what they read on Amazon.
Only by recognizing how we behave can we begin to defend against bad actors.
Given the number of fake reviews out there, it's unlikely you'll catch them all. Browser extensions like Fakespot can help increase your accuracy. So can checking for other red flags, like unverified buyers.
If you're a frequent Amazon shopper, you can try compensating for your losses in advance by applying for a rewards card.
Ultimately, spotting fake reviews is more of an art than a science. The key is remembering to scan for common red flags.
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