Five-star fake out

News release

March 2, 2022 – GATINEAU, QC – Competition Bureau

Is this review for real?

You’re about to click the “Buy” button, but before you open your wallet, it’s probably a good idea to read some online consumer reviews, right? Whether it's booking a vacation, buying an audiobook or hiring a contractor, many of us look to online reviews to help us with our buying decisions. Online consumer reviews  help both consumers and businesses – they provide a wealth of “unbiased” product information to help you shop smart, and they reward businesses that provide a great product or service.

So, when it’s time to spend money on a product or service, many of us scroll to the customer reviews. 

But how would you feel if you knew that glowing review you just read was posted by an employee of the company or by a “reputation management” firm that was hired to post it, and not by a real customer?

Posting fake reviews can be part of an organized effort by companies to boost their own ratings or lower their competitors’ ratings. Companies may encourage their employees to post reviews, they might give customers incentives to leave positive reviews, and they can even hire a firm to post fake reviews for them.

Consumer reviews often strike at the heart of a consumer’s buying decision. Shoppers trust that these reviews are from real customers, just like them. Posting fake reviews online can damage that trust and seriously erode consumer confidence.

And the scope is wide -- if you shop online, you’re a potential victim. So, here are some ways to help you recognize, reject and report fake reviews and protect your pocket book.

How to recognize fake reviews:

  • Sudden spike or dip: Watch out for a sudden spike in very positive reviews or a sudden dip in very bad reviews. Are the reviews spread over a considerable amount of time or are they compressed in a very short period of time?
  • New reviewer: Be on the lookout for reviewers who have only recently created a user profile or have been providing positive feedback on select products or services over a short period of time. These reviewers may work for the company and they may be getting reimbursed for posting fake reviews.
  • Beware when a reviewer says, “It’s the best ever!!!”: Don’t always trust reviews with an overly positive or gushing tone, especially if the review does not offer specific details about why it’s so good. If a review claims a service or product is “the best ever,” the review may be fake.
  • And beware when a reviewer says, “It’s the worst ever!!!”: You also shouldn’t always trust very negative reviews. These could be fake reviews from a competitor, discouraging shoppers from buying one product or service and suggesting another.
  • 5 Stars!: When a company has only 5-star reviews, that’s a red flag. Every company, no matter how good, is likely to have a few negative reviews.
  • Does this sound familiar? Watch out for multiple different reviewers using the same language to describe how good or bad something is. Some companies provide scripts to reviewers with suggested phrases and key words. Be cautious if you see the same buzz words coming up over and over again in reviews.

How to reject fake reviews:

  • Shop around: Just like you shopped for the right product or service, you should also consult several sources for independent, unbiased reviews.
  • Go back in time: Be sure to look at reviews over a long period of time. This will help you to spot potential patterns like a spike in positive or negative reviews.
  • The meat is in the middle: Read the 2-, 3- and 4-star reviews too. Someone writing a fake review is more likely to assign a rating of 1 or 5 stars, meaning you’re more likely to find balanced critique in the middle range.
  • Diversify: Online reviews are just one way to assess a product or service. Branch out -- ask trusted friends and family about their experiences. Consider asking the company for references.

How to report fake reviews

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The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency that protects and promotes competition for the benefit of Canadian consumers and businesses. Competition drives lower prices and innovation while fueling economic growth.

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