How to spot red flags in an online review

Readers have been asking for tips on spotting fake reviews online after our story on this fairly widespread problem was published about a week ago.

Why is this important: It turns out spotting a fake review online while you’re shopping or trying to find services, like a doctor or a dog sitter, is harder than you think. Impossible limit.

What there is to know: There are things that you box do.

  1. Consider the source: Be very skeptical of reviews on a brand’s website, where they’ve likely curated responses, said Jenny Gyllander, founder of a startup that hosts independent product reviews. So if you’re on and most people like Brand X, yes, that’s not saying much.
  2. Check dates: If there is a cluster of positive reviews posted in a relatively short period of time, that’s a sign that something fishy is going on. Maybe a Facebook campaign promising “reviewers” free stuff if they post a note.
  3. 5 stars, red flag: If a company has all five-star reviews, or if a five-star review directly follows a negative review, that’s a bad sign, said Kay Dean, who has investigated fraud cases for the US Department of Education. and runs FakeReviewWatch.
  4. 1 star, not ideal either: “Most fake reviews are extreme,” said Davide Proserpio, a professor of marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, who has researched the subject. Brands will pay for themselves five-star ratings or one-star ratings to crush their competitors.
  5. Check profile: It’s not a good sign if a reviewer has only written one review, received only positive reviews, uses a stock image as their profile picture, or – and this is a big no – has a geographically diverse review model. Most people look at services in the area where they live, Dean said.
  6. Go old fashioned: Dean says it’s not easy to detect counterfeits. “I recommend sticking to the proven method of getting your business recommendations from REAL friends and relatives, not virtual people,” she wrote in an email.

And after: Proserpio says regulatory agencies are taking a closer look at fake reviews online.