Last time out, we looked at how, on the internet, even science journals can be fakes. The internet doesn’t offer the physical cues and clues that help us spot scams. Such scams include five-star “reviews” from hype houses and click farms.

It’s got so bad that in October Amazon started suing:

Late last week, Amazon filed a lawsuit against more than 1,114 individuals who allegedly have posted fake product reviews on the site. Amazon claims many of the defendants have operated mostly out in the open, listing their services and answering ads via the “gig site” to write glowing five-star reviews for $5 a pop.

Amazon, perhaps to avoid consumer loss of confidence, insists that the number of such fakes is small. But Money Magazine notes

Previous research estimates that 30% of product reviews are fake. That seems pretty big—enough to have real influence in a product’s overall ratings, and higher than the projected rate of fake online reviews for other things like hotels and restaurants (10% to 20%).

The problem of fake reviews has been around for years and software engineers have been writing algorithms to spot them. But as usual, a better mousetrap generally encourages a smarter mouse.

Marketing analyst Eric T. Anderson told Fortune Magazine that

Bogus reviews are not only inherently untruthful, but they undermine the credibility of reviews in general. An avalanche of paid hype can bury comments from unbiased shoppers who tried a product and freely offer a star-ranking (one through five) and a review in their own words.

Also, fake reviews tend to be extreme; most buyers of fake reviews for a product probably won’t knowingly pay much for two or three stars out of five.

The honest shopper might be better off without any reviews at all.

That said, online consumer mag Money offers some clever tips from researchers who study fake reviews professionally, including a number of tips that are not just common sense. For example,

3. Several are posted at once. “One of the most surefire ways to catch fake reviews is by looking at the time stamps of product or service reviews,” says Jenny Sussin, an analyst at research company Gartner. She says this indicates that a company paid for a batch of reviews, all of which were uploaded at roughly the same time. “Suddenly a product or company with no reviews or one every few months will have five in a row all mentioning something similar, from the same day,” she says.


6. They’re very short. Brevity can also be suspect when it comes to the review itself, Luca says. “One of the markers of real reviews is someone has taken the time to write something meaningful.” Especially since fake review mills may only pay a few dollars (or less) per review, there’s an incentive for writer to dash them off quickly … More.

One fairly simple, somewhat old-fashioned, approach is to simply e-mail a number of friends in similar circumstances and ask them how they feel about the brand and model they bought. Although friends could have reasons for being less than straightforward, rare is the friendship that isn’t worth more than … five dollars.

See also: What really underlies five-star reviews? Often a possibly illegal publicity campaign

Here’s how that Amazon lawsuit is hashing out. Note: Wear ear plugs:


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...