JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Have you ever bought that five-star-rated item online, only to find out it didn't work? Fake reviews are taking over the internet -- including on Amazon.
Everyone and anyone can be writing and posting these fake reviews because they get something in return. We've uncovered that companies can reach out through social media, offering free stuff, or in some cases, money, for a five-star review, which not only can be frustrating and unethical, but also illegal.
"The sellers are getting screwed over, the cheaters are winning and it makes me sad," said Tommy Noonan, founder of ReviewMeta.com.
Finding fake reviews has become Noonan's life. He started ReviewMeta after an incident in college left him with some concerns.
Fast forward to now, he says ReviewMeta has processed more than 200 million Amazon reviews and found 11.3 percent of them to be untrustworthy.
"It's also important to keep in mind that it's such a competitive atmosphere on Amazon that actually (having) quality products will kind of seed their reviews with fake ones, so that they can start generating sales so they can get some real reviews," warned Noonan.
A similar fake review-spotting website called FakeSpot was founded by Saoud Khalifah. He estimates almost 30 percent of reviews on Amazon are fake.
"The way the internet has been from its origin, it's a free for all, so if people want to write fake reviews it's (going to) happen either way, and with the money to be made, I'm not really surprised that there's so (many problems) with fake reviews," Khalifah said.
The website uses an algorithm that combines how many reviews have been removed and how many errors are present, and then combines that information to form an overall grade. And that's not to say the product is actually a bad product, just that the reviews cannot be trusted.
Electronics are the most common type of product with fake reviews, hands down. Our news partner in Jacksonville, Florida checked on car chargers and demonstrated how easy it is to examine reviews and spot the fakes.
One member of the news team found a car charger with four stars on Amazon for $12.99 with Prime, and then copied and pasted the URL using the FakeSpot website. As it turned out, Amazon had removed more than 1,400 fake reviews from just that one product.
Amazon is fighting back, filing more than 1,000 lawsuits to stop the fake review writers and posters, saying, "We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies."
Noonan and Khalifah said before you buy a product online based on reviews, you should do the following things:
- Check to make sure the reviews are verified.
- Be extra careful with unknown brands.
- Watch out for a lot of reviews posted in a close time frame.
- Be wary of repetition. Multiple reviews containing similar language or phrases are a red flag.
- Look for mistakes in spelling and grammar.