5 Sneaky Ways to Spot a Fake Amazon Review

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

If you’ve come to rely on the convenience of one-click shopping, you probably rely on Amazon reviews to make a lot of purchasing decisions.

The problem: How do you spot fake reviews on Amazon?

Companies that promote their products with fake reviews have gotten a lot more sophisticated.

They’re turning away from bot-generated reviews and those written by foreign workers with limited English skills because Amazon’s algorithms have gotten smart enough to spot them.

What Companies Use for Reviews Instead of Bots

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Instead, they’re creating private groups on platforms like Facebook to recruit people to buy their products.

They typically offer a full refund via PayPal in exchange for a five-star review. Many now require photos or videos, as well. About 15% offer a commission on top of the refund, according to a 2022 research paper called “The Market for Fake Reviews.”

While the 2022 paper notes that Amazon eventually deletes about one-third of fake reviews, researchers found an average lag time of over 100 days between when a fake review is posted and its deletion.

That provides plenty of time for customers to waste their money on low-quality products and even those that could be unsafe.

How to Tell if Amazon Reviews Are Fake

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There’s no foolproof way to distinguish legitimate reviews from phony ones.

Plus, since many of these fake review writers have technically purchased the item, seeing the “Verified Purchase” label on a positive review is increasingly meaningless. But these five tactics will help you spot fake Amazon reviews.

1. Use a Browser Extension or App to Spot Misleading Reviews

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One of the easiest ways to avoid being tricked by a fake Amazon review is to use online tools like Fakespot and ReviewMeta.

Both have browser extensions, along with apps for Android and iOS, so that you can automatically see if a product has low-quality reviews when you’re shopping.

You can also cut and paste the URL of a product page in either tool to get an analysis.

How These Online Tools Work

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Fakespot grades reviews not only on Amazon, but also on eBay, Best Buy, Sephora and Walmart. It provides a letter grade that rates the quality of the reviews, rather than the product. So when Fakespot gives an “A” rating, it isn’t saying the product is great.

It’s saying the reviews appear to be legitimate. Likewise, an “F” rating means the algorithm detected lots of fakes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is terrible.

ReviewMeta works with Amazon only. It analyzes a product page and filters out the reviews that its algorithm flags as untrustworthy. It tells you what percentage of reviews it filtered out and gives the item an adjusted rating.

For example, a pair of shoes purchased by Yours Truly had a 4.5-star Amazon rating. ReviewMeta filtered out 7% of the reviews and adjusted the rating to 4.4 stars.

2. Look for Product Reviews With 2, 3 or 4 Stars

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Typically companies pay for five-star ratings, or they pay fake reviewers to leave one-star reviews for a competitor product.

Look for the moderate reviews with two, three or four stars where the reviewer has left detailed feedback. You’re more likely to get a realistic sense of the item’s pros and cons.

If a product has a bunch of reviews that are super short, whether they’re positive or negative, it’s likely that it has many paid reviews.

Also, if a product has a bunch of five-star reviews, a few one-star reviews and even fewer in between, it should trigger your spidey senses.

Take a Closer Look

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Chances are high that the overly positive reviews that give five stars were paid for, while the one-star ratings are legitimate reviews from actual customers who wasted their money on the item.

Also avoid putting too much weight on the average number of stars. Rochester Institute of Technology assistant professor Ali Tosyali, a co-author of the 2022 paper “Detecting Fake Review Buyers Using Network Structure: Direct Evidence from Amazon,” said he purchased a vitamin product with 5,000 reviews and an average 4.9 rating from Amazon.

He returned the vitamins after experiencing side effects. But upon closer review of the negative reviews, he discovered that others were experiencing the same side effects.

3. Research the Product on Other Sites

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Look beyond Amazon and see what reviewers on other sites have to say, particularly if you’re making a big purchase.

YouTube is a particularly valuable resource for honest product reviews. The reviewers often have expertise with the particular type of product, plus you’ll get a better feel for its look and function, even if the video quality isn’t great.

4. Read the Product Q&A

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It’s easy to write a glowing review that generically describes how great something is. But the Q&A section that contains answers to commonly asked customer questions gets a lot more detailed.

There’s no guarantee that someone who works for the company isn’t answering some of the questions. But if something has lots of reviews, you should be able to get a decent picture of the product.

Instead of finding out whether people loved or hated it, you’ll find details like whether the product has held up well, how difficult it was to assemble or whether the color matched what was displayed in the photo.

5. Use the Timestamp Filter

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A company will typically recruit a bunch of people to write fake reviews for a product in a short period. While Amazon typically shows you its top reviews first, you can switch to filter by most recent.

If you find a flood of five-star or one-star reviews that were left within a window of a few days, chances are those reviews are fake.

You might also want to compare the date when the item first became available to the review dates. One Wall Street Journal reporter recently discovered dozens of glowing reviews for a device that hadn’t even been released yet.

What if You Get Tricked by a Fake Amazon Review?

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If you think a review is fake, you can notify Amazon by clicking “report abuse,” regardless of whether you purchased the product. But what if you’ve already paid for the product and it wasn’t what you expected?

Most products shipped from Amazon.com or Amazon warehouse can be returned within 30 days of receipt. However, some third-party sellers have their own policies. Be sure to check on the return policy on the site before you buy from a third party.

Be extremely cautious about buying certain products on Amazon that require regulation — think helmets, car seats, items that plug into a wall, cosmetics and over-the-counter medications.

It’s one thing to waste money on a pair of shoes that didn’t live up to the reviews. But don’t give fake reviewers the opportunity to sell you anything that could jeopardize your health and safety in any way.

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