Multimedia Storyteller
Feb 16

Reviewing Fake Reviews | Who Can You Trust?

Red roses ruined by reviews

A few weeks ago, I was browsing Amazon for natural facial toners. You know, the stuff that’s supposed to tighten your pores and replenish moisture, giving your skin a majestic glow?

I found one simply called Organic Rose Water Spray by Eve Hansen, a Florida-based, skin-care company. It was just what I was looking for!

With a nearly perfect five-star rating from more than 350 happy customers, I almost added the beautifully packaged product to my shopping cart without reading a single review.

But I stopped myself.

Shouldn’t I first read some of these stellar reviews to make sure they’re legit?

More than a third are fake

It’s not a bad question to stop and ask yourself the next time you’re shopping online and checking for honest reviews. Because more than a third of all online reviews are fake, according to data-mining expert Bing Liu.

Liu told AOL’s Daily Finance in “Fake Customer Reviews: Don’t Fall for this Online Marketing Scam” that marketers and retailers — not real customers — are the ones penning many of the reviews you see for products you’re thinking of buying online. And Amazon, the king of online retailers, has been a breeding ground for scammy reviews for years.

Already aware of this unfortunate fact, I was half expecting to scroll down to the “Most Helpful Customer Reviews” to find a few fake reviews. Instead, what I found were pages and pages of reviews written by people who’d gotten the Organic Rose Water Spray either for free or at a heavily discounted price “in exchange for their honest review.”

Here’s a sampling of what I found on just the first few pages. Such statements are usually tacked onto the end of reviews. But they’re sometimes placed mid-paragraph, sort of hidden:

  • “I received this product at a discounted rate (not free) for my honest and unbiased opinion. I love it! I would buy it again!”
  • “I received a discount on this product for testing and reviewing purposes and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.”
  • “I received this product at a discount for review purposes with no restrictions on the review outcome.”
  • “I got this at a reduced price in exchange for an HONEST and UNBIASED review.”

I agonized over all the honesty.

You be the judge

Well, there are a few signs you can look for, according to a 2011 paper that Cornell University researchers published on this very topic. The researchers created a computer algorithm for sussing out fake online reviews. Not surprisingly, Amazon was among dozens of companies whose business models rely on customer reviews that were eager to use the deceit-slaying technology.

So, here’s what the researchers say to watch out for:

  • Reviews that are rife with colorful storytelling or weak details.

An Amazon reviewer who received the Organic Rose Water Spray “at a discount” had this to say: “This product is amazing. It’s super refreshing and easy to use. I use it constantly when it is warm out to cool my face down. It is hydrating and gentle. It balances skin tone, hydrates and calms redness and irritation.”

Another “honest and unbiased” reviewer wove a story that includes details about her friend’s father: “This spray bottle of magical rose water is wonderful. It smells lovely…just like roses, but not too strong…This has been around a long time. A friend of mine recommended it. Her father used it over 60 years ago to soothe his chapped face caused by working outside in all kinds of weather. She inherited his sensitive skin and this is the only thing that she can use that doesn’t irritate it.”

  • Reviews that use the words “I” and “me” way too much.

To try and reinforce the lie that they are “real people,” some reviewers will unwittingly use “I” and “me” a bit too much. Truly honest reviewers rarely go overboard with those superlatives, say the researchers.

Here’s an example from the Rose Water reviews: “I have always enjoyed the smell of roses and if I was really rich I would have a dozen fresh cut in each room at all times! When I was given the opportunity to purchase the rose water spray at a discounted price in return for an honest review I jumped at the chance. I have been using it for a few weeks now and I absolutely love it! I spray a bit on cotton balls to remove makeup from my face…I also spritz some on my face. Recently, I have been giving it a spray just to make the rooms smell great…. I am in the process of ordering more!”

That’s 11 uses of the word “I.”

You be the judge.

Like a pinball

You might be surprised to learn that I ended up buying the Organic Rose Water Spray after all.

After reading so many “honest and unbiased” reviews for the product, I started to sense what such a review really looked like. Reviews with disclaimer language: ignored. Unbelievable stories: skipped. I became a pinball navigating my way through the pinball machine of reviews. I also searched for non-Amazon reviews to see how the product and retailer fared elsewhere.

Satisfied with my findings, I returned to Amazon to buy my bottle of rosewater spray. I’m glad to say that, for me, the product really does measure up to all the hype — real and fake.

Our Asurea Scam Report hopes you’ll find your way to the truth every time you shop online — whether for rose-scented toners or new life insurance plans. Get past the scammy reviews when searching for life insurance by keeping your thinking cap on and contacting Asurea directly.

About the Author:
Angela J. Bass is a multimedia journalist from Oakland, California.

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