Sun 14 Aug, 2011 05:29 pm
Online consumer review may be scam
By Leslie Meredith
Approximately two-thirds of online shoppers read product reviews before they purchase. Why? Because they want trusted information before they buy. It's a bit like surveying your family and friends, but on a potentially much bigger scale -- you may have access to the opinions of hundreds of people who have used the product you are interested in buying.
However, manufacturers' sites, forums and even review sites have become targets for opinion spam: phony positive reviews and comments created by sellers or people paid by them, or negative reviews meant to downgrade competitors. If you don't know how to tell the difference, you could be scammed.
Researchers at Cornell University have made software that can identify fake reviews with 90 percent reliability, compared with 50 percent accuracy on the part of humans.
To design and test their software, the Cornell team paid people to write 400 fake positive reviews about TripAdvisor's 20 most popular hotels in the Chicago area. TripAdvisor is a popular online destination for hotel, flight and restaurant recommendations based on analysis of user reviews posted on the site.
Those reviews, which averaged about 115 words each, were matched against 400 actual reviews in which the same hotels had been given a maximum five-star rating.
While Cornell's research was based on a small test involving 20 Chicago hotels and is not available to the general public, the Cornell group intends to apply the software to other categories, starting with restaurants and eventually moving to consumer products.
Meanwhile, the study provided several telltale signs that are common in fake reviews, and you don't need a computer to find them.
Does the following review ring true to you?
"My husband and I stayed at the James Chicago Hotel for our anniversary. This place is fantastic! We knew as soon as we arrived we made the right choice! The rooms are BEAUTIFUL and the staff very attentive and wonderful!! The area of the hotel is great, since I love to shop I couldn't ask for more!! We will definatly [sic] be back to Chicago and we will for sure be back to the James Chicago."
If it sounds too good to be true, you're right.
The signs of deceit
1. Genuine reviews use concrete words relating to the subject. In the Chicago hotel test, real reviews included check-in, bathroom and price.
2. Deceivers lace their reviews with personal details such as who they were with and what the occasion was. Don't be fooled: Too much information is a red flag.
3. Deceivers like big words and meticulous punctuation.
4. Deceivers use more verbs; truth-tellers use more nouns.
5. In addition to content, look for patterns. Are all the reviews positive? That's suspicious. Some people who write reviews are either disappointed or unusually pleased with their purchases, but most will include both pros and cons.
6. Some people get paid to write fake reviews. For instance, Amazon's Mechanical Turk has a job posting that offers a penny for each book, music and movie reviews posted to CommonTastes.com. Short and stuffed with glowing adjectives? Probably fake. This is the most common kind of fake review because it takes almost no time to write. Likewise, one- or two-word negative reviews are probably fake for the same reason.
7. Look for variations on a user name and cut-and-paste reviews that have been posted multiple times with only minor changes. Both indicate that the reviewer is disingenuous.
If a user review contains a link, do not click on it. This is yet another way spammers can lead you astray.
Finding reliable info
Don't rely on user reviews and comments alone. Go to the manufacturer's site and read beyond the product specifications, including customer service options, return policies and warranties.
Turn to reliable review sites that have knowledgeable experts on staff who review a variety of products across categories.
Check social media sites. For instance, search for the brand name of interest on Twitter to see what people are saying -- you do not need a Twitter account to search the popular microblogging site. Simply go to twitter.com and type the product name into the search box at the top of the page.
Use Google to search for "Product name review," but only visit familiar sites if you take this route. Look at user reviews on more than one site, especially if it's a big purchase.
And finally, do it old-school: Ask a friend.
Thank you. That's great information.
I became aware of reviewer scams a while back (on here?) when the topic was Angie's List. Someone said that you could "buy off" a bad review with cash and that often it was competitors who were responsible for the bad reviews.
Having a blueprint of what to watch out for is great!
I can generally tell the difference, especially if there are more than 5 or 6 reviews. Tools and shop equipment reviews on amazon are usually highly accurate.
My reviews on Amazon are perfect, of course.