Personal Finance Dec 29, 2023 07:59 AM EST

Demystifying Online Reviews and Making Smarter Purchases

By April Fowell

When it comes to choosing a restaurant or making a purchase, we are frequently convinced by a series of excellent five-star internet reviews, but can you truly believe them?

A poll conducted in 2023 found that over 99% of customers occasionally read online reviews, and that over 87% of them routinely search the internet for other people's opinions on goods and services.

Demystifying Online Reviews and Making Smarter Purchases
(Photo : by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
When it comes to choosing a restaurant or making a purchase, we are frequently convinced by a series of excellent five-star internet reviews, but can you truly believe them?

According to a public interest research group, up to 40% of these online testimonials are untrustworthy, and these fraudulent evaluations are thought to have an annual impact on online purchasing of $152 billion.

Kay Dean, an investigator specializing in online review fraud, dispels the belief that reviews with intricate details or accompanying photos are inherently genuine. As someone who depends on reviews to evaluate factors such as restaurant costs, ambiance, and travel convenience, Dean underscores the need for vigilance, cautioning against assuming legitimacy based solely on the level of detail or visual content in reviews. Her expertise emphasizes the importance of discernment when navigating online reviews, recognizing that authenticity cannot be solely determined by the presence of elaborate descriptions or images.

Excessive Five-Star Reviews:

Dean advises caution if a business accumulates an unusually high number of five-star reviews within a brief timeframe, especially when accompanied by minimal or no accompanying text. Such a pattern raises a red flag, signaling potential manipulation.

Furthermore, the presence of a negative review followed by a sudden influx of five-star ratings is deemed suspicious, as it may indicate an attempt by the business to overshadow genuine negative feedback. These practices, identified by Dean, underscore the importance of scrutinizing review patterns to ensure the authenticity and reliability of online business evaluations.

Examine Review Authors' Past

People who have only ever left one review should be wary of their profile. It is probably phony if it seems like an account was made specifically for that one testimonial.

Locked Google accounts are another red flag, according to Dean, who believes this is one method that fraudulent writers conceal their review history from readers. Customers should exercise caution if a company's testimonial feed is replete with reviews from people whose accounts are locked.

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Who is the Reviewer?

If a reviewer chooses a random photo, stock image, or celebrity's name as their display picture, proceed with caution.

Furthermore, you should exercise extra caution if the reviewer has given several testimonials about a certain firm from all over the world, and if they have done so quickly after one another in a short amount of time.

This is especially true if a company is discovered to have a large number of reviewers that have evaluated the exact same stores and have a comparable "global" footprint; these accounts may be fraudulent, and the reviews may have been purchased.

Visuals, Texts, and Deception:

While reviews lacking text and featuring all-star ratings raise suspicion, it's equally important to exercise caution with detailed reviews, warns Dean. Contrary to common belief, she emphasizes that an abundance of details or the inclusion of photos doesn't necessarily authenticate a review.

Dean shares an anecdote illustrating the deceptive use of images, recounting instances where photos sourced from real estate listings were falsely presented as work supposedly performed by home remodelers in certain reviews. This insight from Dean underscores the need for a discerning approach when evaluating the veracity of reviews, recognizing that both minimal and detailed feedback can be subject to manipulation.

Personal Recommendations

Dean's most foolproof suggestion is to engage in real conversations with people-seek recommendations from friends and family rather than solely relying on virtual reviews. Emphasizing the enduring effectiveness of the tried-and-true method of word-of-mouth communication, she encourages individuals to tap into personal networks for trustworthy insights. This approach, advocated by Dean, reinforces the value of authentic, human connections in acquiring reliable information, steering away from potential biases or manipulations that may be present in online reviews.

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