St. Louis, Mo., April 19, 2012 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising consumers to be skeptical when reading online reviews of businesses, products and services.
Cornell University reports that many reviews are written by professional writers or even employees who are paid to put a positive spin on a review—or to post bad reviews of competitors. Researchers also found that humans have a hard time distinguishing fake reviews from real ones.
“The Internet makes it easy to research products and services before we buy,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB President and CEO. “But sometimes reviews can give buyers a false sense of security about the product or service they’re looking for. You need to take time to understand what you’re buying and who you’re buying from before you place an order.”
Telltale signs of fake reviews may include vague or awkward phrasing or testimonials that seem too enthusiastic to be believable. Some reviews may be identical or nearly so.
A few online retailers have policies that ban reviews by people who have a financial stake in the company or product that’s being reviewed. These sites should explain their policies on reviews, possibly on the “about us” section of the website. If the product is widely available, you may be able to find other online reviews that you can compare with reviews on a company’s own website.
BBB Business Reviews, by contrast, are verified by BBB staff and include details of any complaints against a company and show how the company responds to complaints. Companies are asked to provide basic information about their businesses. The BBB assists businesses and consumers in resolving their disputes, providing mediation and arbitration.
Laura Ramirez of Maplewood said she has been checking BBB Business Reviews since 1980. And St. Louisan Mary Swan said she uses BBB Business Reviews because she trusts the BBB information to be accurate.
Fred Bohnenkand of Cottleville, Mo., said he started checking BBB Business Reviews after seeing BBB personnel on television. “We are very impressed with the information,” he said.
“Reliable information is critical for consumers to make the right choices,” said Scott Mosby, owner of Mosby Building Arts. “The BBB is the confirmed source of reliable information, a trustworthy service to consumers.”
“Fake reviews are everywhere,” said Robert Hoffmann, president of Hoffmann Brothers Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., a BBB Accredited Business. “We recently found one contractor writing several hundred good reviews on himself while writing bad reviews on his competitors. The BBB is the only source for verified reviews,” Hoffmann said.
"Our customers tell us that they use reviews to determine a company with whom to do business,” said George “Butch” Welsch, president of Welsch Heating & Cooling. “The BBB is the only source we know where reviews are checked by the BBB staff and have some validity.”
Some red flags to look for that may indicate that reviews are fake:
- Look at the reviewer’s name. If it has several numbers at the end, it may be a sign of robotic review-writing software. If the name resembles a business or product name, it could be written by someone being paid for reviews.
- While you have the name in mind, check to see whether the same reviewer has written reviews of other products in the same category. Try plugging the reviewer’s name or nickname into a search engine to check for repeat reviews.
- On some sites you can click on a reviewer’s name to see a profile and previous reviews.
- Check the adjectives. If a review is loaded with effusive, positive writing with lots of exclamation points, it’s probably a fake review. Real people seldom gush over products, and they often share the cons as well as the pros of their experience.
- Beware of perfection in writing. If the review sounds like an ad, it probably is.
- Watch out for too many five-star ratings. Businesses seldom please everyone all of the time.
- Look for bad grammar or misused words. These could be signs that the reviews have been outsourced to a country where English is not the native language or that a reviewer is writing lots of reviews without checking spelling or grammar.
- Look for the same or similar wording in reviews. A paid reviewer may copy and paste wording from one review to another to save time. You can copy the review into a search engine to see if the same phrases are used elsewhere.
- Read plenty of reviews. Don’t rely only on reviews on a company’s own website. See what people are saying elsewhere online.
About the BBB
The BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies, 11,000 Charity Reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information.
Contacts: Michelle L. Corey, President and CEO, (314) 584-6800, email@example.com; Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, (314) 584-6743 or (314) 681-4719 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org