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"Customer" Product Reviews Not Worth the Pixels They're Displayed On
Guardian Money (GM) was first alerted to this practice in 2011 by complaints about website We Are Electricals. Customers would often order items, which they were then told were out of stock after payment was taken, yet had great difficulty in obtaining refunds from the company, generating a ton of complaints. However, reviews about this outfit on review sites were often glowing, flying in the face of actual customer experiences. These positive reviews were of course, fake.
Investigations revealed that a huge black market exists for writing fake reviews, with a lot of this dishonest work going to computer science students in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia:
Many of the fake reviews uncovered by Money were written by computer science specialists in countries such as Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, who, for a relatively low fee, will write and send false reviews using scores of aliases and fake addresses. Many offer their services to western companies on Freelancer.com, which promotes itself as an international website on which you can "outsource anything you can think of". Companies simply post their requirements and wait for freelancers to start bidding for the work.
These charlatans can earn good money too, upwards of £1000 and with the most successful obtaining so much work, that they actually outsource their own jobs to others! They then post their fake reviews on well known independent review sites such as Trustpilot and Review Centre. Even the likes of Amazon can be gamed with these fakes. While all these sites have procedures to try and detect such frauds, it seems that they can easily worked around by using a unique name, email address, IP address and by varying the wording of the reviews to make them look as different as possible:
Our trail led to "Zahed Kamal", who described himself as a 25-year-old studying computer science and engineering at university in Chittagong, Bangladesh. He told us, in conversations on Facebook and email, how he had been contracted by western companies – including British personal finance and retail firms – to covertly post hundreds of reviews on independent consumer review websites such as Trustpilot and Review Centre. He currently has 11 jobs posting reviews, which, he says, will earn him £1,130 – including work for a hotel that wants positive reviews on "popular travel sites". Indeed, he is so busy that he sub-contracts some of the work to others in India and Bangladesh.
So, how do you find an unbiased review of a product or service you're interested in? The only real way is to look up professional reviews from established websites that have a track record in offering unbiased reviews. In our PC enthusiast world, a site like ours would meet this high standard, as well as the various other established players in this market who have been around a few years and crucially, have a good reputation. For obvious reasons of potential bias, we can't name any specific site except ours.
The full report is an eye opener and well worth reading. It's available at The Guardian.
Finally, here are Guardian Money's tips for spotting a fake customer review:
• Look for concrete details. Avoid reviews that provide abstract narratives about a product or customer-service experience. Give more trust to reviews that provide in‑depth descriptions of the quality of the product or service.
• Avoid one-review accounts. Click on a user's profile on review websites to get an indication of which other reviews the user has written.• Beware reviews in poor English. Genuine customers may take little care with spelling and grammar, but some reviews sound as if they were translated from a foreign language. Give more credence to reviews written in well constructed and grammatically precise English.
• Skip over reviews overflowing with verbs, adverbs, hyperbole and praise that contains no caveats.• Consider whether the reviewer's purchase has been confirmed. Amazon and Trustpilot have ways to confirm whether a customer who left a review for a product has indeed purchased it, but this system can be abused.
• Seek company and product recommendations from reputable publications. Look to Which? and MoneySavingExpert.com rather than consumer review websites.
• Conduct in-depth research. Reviews left by users on consumer forums, where they've engaged with the community on a regular basis can provide sharper insights than reviews posted online, so look beyond page one of Google's search results to get a better idea of a company's reputation.