How to spot fake online reviews

September 10, 2019

In this 5-minute read:

  • Check the timing of the reviews
  • Watch for repetition
  • Generic comments and keyword stuffing
  • Are the profiles real people?
  • False information in reviews

Online reviews help us as consumers to sort out reliable businesses, with the best products and services, from those that might provide less than desirable experiences. But with all of the fake profiles and anonymity online, how can you tell if a review is real or fake?

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Positive and negative reviews alike get faked by customers, paid reviewers, competitors, angry former employees, and even businesses themselves. So, to help you sort out the false reviews from the legit ones, we have a few tips that may come in handy. 

Check the timing

This first tip can be helpful for catching both positive and negative fake reviews. Check the timing of the reviews. 

Did a bunch of positive reviews all come in within the same 30-minute timeframe, or were there hundreds within a week? This could happen for a couple of different reasons. The business could have paid someone to post a bunch of reviews to promote a new product or service (so check to see if that’s the case). Or maybe the business held a raffle or giveaway in exchange for positive reviews. 

Either way, this screams “fake reviews” and makes it hard for customers to trust the business. Also, practices like this are grounds for businesses to get their online review site accounts removed. 

On the other side of the coin, is there a large amount of negative reviews that came in around the same time? Sometimes, even if the first complaint is legit, a disgruntled customer will get their friends and family to all leave negative reviews—even if they’ve never stepped foot in that business. That same customer might also create a bunch of fake accounts from which to leave false reviews. 

Watch out for skeptical timing of reviews as you’re researching which companies to do business with. 

Watch out for repetition

Repetition is especially common in fake positive reviews. Look at for similar phrasing among reviews, especially those that occur around the same time. See if any words or phrases have been repeated. These could be reviews that were bought and given instructions or even a template to use when writing the reviews. 

Generic comments and keyword stuffing

This is definitely more common among fake positive reviews as well. Users that leave super generic comments and/or common keywords related to the business’s services or products give off some spammy vibes. 

When a business pays someone to leave reviews, especially someone that’s never used their products or services, they’ll post some flowery comments that sound nice but don’t give any real detail as to what they were satisfied with. 

Also, keywords in reviews can help businesses show up better on Google for related searches. So reviews with unnatural-sounding keywords could have been orchestrated by the business or their marketing team. 

Anonymous profiles 

Sure, some people like to keep their online profiles anonymous for reasons of privacy, but that can make it harder to identify if a review is fake or not. When in doubt, look for the reviews that have photos and names of real people and maybe check that person’s reviews about other businesses. 

Fake accounts typically don’t upload a photo, or if they do, they’ll use an emoji or cartoon to make it seem more personal. This paired with an obviously fake name is a bad sign.

Anonymous profiles can be used to write good and bad reviews, so pay attention to the reviews that seem like they are from real people, to avoid being misled. 

Look at reviewer profiles 

Beyond fake names and unidentifiable photos, you can look at individual reviewer profiles to determine if they are a credible review source. 

People who have only ever left 5-star reviews could very well be getting paid to leave those reviews. That’s not to say that none of their reviews are legit, but it’s easier to trust reviews that come from someone with a more diverse star rating profile. 

False information (read the owner response)

False information in reviews is usually found in negative reviews and is definitely a good indicator of a fake review, even if the reviewer didn’t intend it to be so. 

There are a few different types of false information we’ve encountered in fake reviews:

  • False customer. Sometimes a competitor or “random” person will post a bad review for a service they’ve never used. The business owner can check their name with their customer database to see if the review came from one of their customers. 
  • Lying about an overcharge. Some customers exaggerate how much they were charged for a service when they are upset. 
  • Reviews that don’t make sense. Sometimes a customer will leave a review for the wrong business by accident. Their intended recipient of the review may have a similar business name.

In any of these cases, check to see if the owner left a response. They can usually provide a little more clarification into situations like these. 

Research the reviewer

If you’re feeling especially ambitious and have some time on your hands, research the names of the reviews that you are skeptical of. 

  • Does their name match up with an actual person? 
  • Do they have Facebook profiles, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts, or other social profiles? 
  • Do they interact with other people on their social accounts?
  • Do they have real pictures?

If you answer no to these questions, it gets tricky to tell if the review is real or not. Put your trust in the reviews that you know come from real people.

Report fake reviews

If you are highly skeptical of review or have definitive evidence that one is fake, most online platforms have a way to report or flag reviews. Just be careful about doing this too often, because your account can be suspended if you are unjustly flagging reviews. 

Google, Amazon, Yelp, and other review platforms will look into these reports and determine if the review is fake. If they decide that it is, they will remove it. This can take several weeks, so don’t expect the review to disappear immediately.

Go deeper: read our complete guide to removing fake reviews

Interested in getting real reviews from your customers to help increase your brand’s trust? Try reputation management software. Encourage your customers to leave reviews with a simple platform that helps you monitor and respond to reviews in a timely fashion. 

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