Fake Reviews

Illustration by Emmanuel Vargas

Illustration by Emmanuel Vargas

By Mario Pinto Martinez, @nophrend

A review, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “a formal assessment or examination of something with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary.” Reviews help consumers decide if they want to purchase a particular good or service based on experiences from other consumers who have paid for that product or service. With the spark of electronic commerce — or e-commerce — companies now rely on product reviews to increase profit and business flow.

To satisfy that need, there are many who are willing to write a positive review in exchange for cash. Fake reviewers are relatively abundant, cheap and easy to locate. They are a common marketing strategy for corporations. They can be found on Craigslist and other sites with prices ranging from $5 to $10 for each written review, and higher prices for video reviews.

Amazon reigned the world of online purchases in 2016 accumulating approximately $136 billion in net sales according to Statista.com. Their product reviews essentially define how good the product and service are. Size, shape, color, accuracy and quality, as well as product description to real product precision, are all factors that contribute to having a positive or negative review.

Yelp, a leading review site for food establishments and services, is visited by approximately 70 million people per month. Thus, making it a target for misleading companies who are buying positive fake reviews, or removing the already existing negative reviews.

Websites such as ReviewsThatStick.com specialize in writing “genuine” reviews for websites such as Yelp, Google Places, Trip Advisor and Yahoo! Local, consequently deceiving the trust of the consumer with faulty reviews. ReviewsThatStick also provides companies with an option to pay for removal of negative Yelp reviews that may be harming their business’s image.

It is not news that the Internet is generally not to be trusted, but in the online consumer world there is no form of other than reviews. The issue with product and service reviews is that, unlike film, music, books, plays and concert reviewers, there is no professional criticism. Consumers must place their trust on an amateur review.

The more important matter is when the validity of potential health-harming products is jeopardized. This can be seen frequently for weight-loss products as they are a multi-billion-dollar industry striving to reach for better profits year after year. There have been instances in which reviewers have posed as credited doctors claiming to verify the product promise, putting many at risk as those products could be extremely dangerous for the consumer’s health.

As reported by The Consumerist, there are ways to identify fabricated reviews. Utilizing “marketing speak” is one of them, as real consumers generally do not utilize fancy or product-specific terminology. Another one would be repeatedly mentioning the name of the product throughout the review. Lastly, beware of reviews in which the product or brand is praised or bashes another with no proper justification or reasoning.