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How to Spot Fake Reviews Online

June 2019

There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs a hearing aid. Embarrassing, yes, but also, for a gadget-loving guy like me – fun!

Of course I plan to buy it online. And of course I’m planning to save a ton of money over the $7,000 I’d spend if I went to a specialist.

I’m going to start with an under-$10 model, then if that doesn’t help, try one in the $30 range. Then graduate to models in the $80, $120, and $300 range if need be.

You know – it’s a gadget thing: toys coming in the mail. And in any case, an article in Consumer Reports said that some of the best models in the $300-400 range are about as good as those that run $7,000.

But you gotta research. You gotta search the shopping sites, see which ones are the best sellers, and read the reviews.

When I first started researching this, I found an $80 model on Amazon that seemed to me just what I needed. There were four versions to choose from, and I selected the one that helped reviewers who described having a moderate hearing loss similar to mine.

When I went back to Amazon months later to consider a purchase, it occurred to me that I should check to see whether the reviews were fake.

So I copied the product’s Amazon link and pasted it into Fakespot.com. Yikes. Fakespot graded the reviews a D on a scale of A to F. It pointed out that Amazon itself had removed 33 fake reviews for this device.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous vendors are known to hire shady companies to post highly positive reviews. I first noticed the problem years ago. I was about to buy a tech product that had a dozen reviews, all with 5-star ratings. Then I noticed that not one of those was labeled a “Verified Purchase” by Amazon. Plus, they were all posted around the same time. They were fake.

A recent article by Business Insider said that Amazon is flooded with fake reviews. A consumer group looked at 12,000 reviews of headphones and found that 87% were by unverified reviewers.

Fakespot analyzes the reviews themselves as well as the reviewers, looking for suspicious reviews based on purchasing patterns, number of reviews, number of deleted reviews, language used, mismatched dates, whether the reviewers are verified, and other signs.

In addition to a grade, Fakespot gives an overview of the reviews, estimates the percentage that are high quality, gives examples of comments, and includes the full text of what it considers the most authentic review.

The site also gives a graph of the price history of the item.

Initially Fakespot only worked with Amazon, but now also works with the Best Buy, Walmart, Sephora, and Steam websites for products, as well as the Tripadvisor and Yelp hospitality sites.

ReviewMeta.com is another great site for checking the authenticity of reviews, though it’s currently limited to Amazon. It gives an even more in-depth analysis that includes a 10-point “report card.”

For the hearing aid I was interested in, ReviewMeta gave the reviews an overall grade of “warn.” It gave a failing grade in the categories of Deleted Reviews, Suspicious Reviewers, and Phrase Repetition. It gave a passing grade in categories such as Rating Trend, Unverified Purchases, and Incentivized Reviews.

It also gave examples of the most and least trusted reviews.

In addition to using Fakespot and ReviewMeta, you can yourself be more savvy in scrutinizing reviews. I will usually sort the reviews by date, with the most recent first. Sometimes a product will launch with a bunch of fake reviews, but then as more people use it, more authentic reviews are posted.

I will also sometimes click on a reviewer’s username and glance at his or her other reviews. Certain patterns, such as a lot of highly positive reviews written in a short time period, suggest that the person was paid to write them. It’s also telling if all the reviews are completely positive, with 5-star ratings and if there are a number of reviews of products from the same company. Of course, I ignore reviews that aren’t from verified purchasers.

Another tip for Amazon reviews is to click on “See all reviews” and then sort by the number of stars, selecting those ratings that are in the middle (3/5 stars). These are most likely to be authentic and tend to give insight into the positive and negative aspects of the product.

In the end, though, I might just pop for an expensive hearing aid because they’re so cool. You can stream phone calls and music directly from your phone to your hearing aids, as well as use your smartphone to make adjustments.

I’ll take one of each, please.

© 2019 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen