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Take online reviews with grain of salt

Within a few weeks, consumers will be in the midst of their annual holiday shopping experience. In this relatively calm time before that hits, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises taking a few minutes to improve your shopping savvy. A key element for many consumers is reading online reviews. These reviews are considered when purchasing from online merchants as well as from local companies. A recent survey by marketing specialists Bright Local, indicates that 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and 52% of those between ages 18 and 54 say they always read reviews. The challenge: sorting fake reviews from real ones.

Where do fake reviews come from?

Not surprisingly, as reliance on online reviews has increased, so have the number of outfits that specialize in creating fake reviews. Payments for producing fake reviews vary wildly, from 25 cents each to $100. Some give full refunds for the purchase price of the product in exchange for a glowing review. Automated operations can send out unlimited numbers of these reviews across the digital commerce landscape. Overseas companies churn out reviews — as well as bots.


Learn to sort the real from the fake

Amongst this dizzying array of fakery, consumers should learn to spot some of the signs that a review is suspicious. Here’s what the experts say to watch for:

• Reviews that are 100% positive or negative. Normally, a real reviewer would mention some good and some bad points about a product or business. Even when writing a positive review, most would include at least a few flaws, and vice-versa.

• Too much information. A reviewer that devotes a lot of space to a back story, often with an emotional component, may be faking it. Most of us would just say what works and what doesn’t, without feeling the need to dramatize our review. 

• Too little information. Avoid reviews that just exclaim, “Wonderful!” One-word reviews are useless.

• A reviewer’s suspicious background. When you check out their other reviews you may see a clear pattern of praising reviews, or you may find no other reviews at all – also an indicator that the review is planted. Watch especially for a lot of reviews they have written within a short time span.

• Non-“verified purchase” reviews. If there’s no indication they really bought the product, you shouldn’t consider their review legitimate. Look for “verified purchase” on the review.

• Grammar issues. Most of us don’t make many grammatical or spelling mistakes, but also don’t write in a stilted, formal style. Either can indicate a foreign-written, fake review.

Trust BBB

Consumer experiences matter to Better Business Bureau – and businesses. BBB customer reviews allow customers to post positive, negative or neutral reviews about marketplace experiences with businesses, brands and charities. BBB does not accept anonymous reviews but does protect the identity of the reviewer. You can leave a review for a business or learn more about BBB customer reviews at

Be careful during this heavy shopping season as you fold reviews into the mix while evaluating products and businesses. They can be a help or a hindrance. If you have questions concerning online reviews and other consumer issues, contact BBB by calling 800-856-2417 or visit the website