How to Spot Fake Amazon Reviews
While searching for products to buy on Amazon to do a hands-on review, I ran into a lot of weird things. Some products would have hundreds of 5 star reviews and no 4 star reviews at all. Others were highly rated, with thousands of 5 star reviews one week and zero 5 star reviews the next. So what’s going on? Welcome to the world of fake reviews.
I did some research to figure out what's going on. Here are the lessons I learned that you can use to spot fake reviews and avoid getting scammed.
Let’s start with an example from a real product with fake reviews that was used to trick Amazon shoppers into buying their product. It started off looking great, over 12 000 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars.
This must be great right? Well, not so fast. Here’s what this page looked like a week later:
All the 5 star reviews are gone. The product isn’t available anymore. All that remains are the low score reviews from real users who were tricked by this page. Here’s one example:
I really feel for this user, and I’m sure you do too. This sucks, and the goal of this post is to help prevent this from happening to you. There are many ways of detecting these fake reviews, which are outlined below.
Look at the Star Distribution
A quick way to get a feel for if reviews are fake or not is by looking at the distribution of stars. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. For example, here’s a product made up of fake reviews:
You’ll notice it’s almost all 5 star reviews. That's unrealistic for a product with 1217 reviews
In comparison, here’s what the real star distribution of a good product looks like. Sure, it doesn’t look at highly rated as the other one, but that’s the point: a real product, even a fantastic one, will have a mix of 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 star reviews. If a product is almost all 5 stars, they are likely employing fake reviews.
Use Verified Reviews
There are 2 kinds of reviews on Amazon:
- Unverified: Anyone can post a review without having purchased the product.
- Verified: The user has to have purchased the product on Amazon in order to post a review.
In my opinion, you should completely ignore unverified reviews. It’s just too easy to create fake unverified reviews. A single person or a small fake-review company can create thousands of fake Amazon accounts and generate loads of fake reviews.
So, how do you ignore unverified reviews and only look at verified reviews? Luckily, Amazon makes this pretty easy.
- Scroll to the bottom of the reviews section
- Click on "See all 743 reviews"
- Change 'FILTER BY' from 'All reviewers' to 'Verified purchase only'
Pay attention to the ratio of verified vs unverified reviews. Below, you can see that there are only 2 verified reviews out of 266 total reviews. That's very suspicious.
Verified Reviews Aren't Enough
So, are verified reviews enough to avoid fake reviews? Unfortunately no. Sellers use many strategies to create fake verified reviews that you need to be aware of. For example, sellers will:
- Buy their own product in bulk from multiple fake accounts so they can write fake verified reviews.
- Use Review Hijacking (more on this later)
- Use Paid Reviews
You'll need to dig deeper and follow some of the recommendations below to identify fake verified reviews.
Comment History of the Reviewer
One way to determine if a comment is real or fake is by looking at the comment history of the reviewer. You can see the comment history of any reviewer by clicking on their name. Here's what to look for:
- Do they have a huge amount of comments all on the same day? This is likely fake.
- Have they been posting reviews only recently? New accounts are more suspicious than old accounts.
- Do their reviews look natural? This is a bit subjective, but sometimes you can see a pattern that looks out of place which Amazon's algorithms can miss.
Beware of Top Contributor Reviews
Amazon sometimes adds a badge to a reviewer, labeling them a 'Top Contributor'. This is meant as an indication that this reviewer has reviewed a lot of products over time and that their comments have generally been of high quality. So, if they leave a review, that means you can trust them right? Well, not so fast.
Fake review companies know that top reviews from top contributors are very valuable, so they actively target these reviewers to try to get them to write a paid review for them. The fake review company will offer to:
- Pay for the product they want reviewed so that the reviewer can be identified as a ‘verified reviewer’.
- Pay for the review itself
- Supply the exact review text to write, so all the ‘top contributor’ has to do is copy paste it onto the product page.
Some companies will even offer to buy the top reviewer’s account so that the fake review can take it over and write reviews on their behalf.
The best way to spot this is to look at the review history of the reviewer and look for patterns that are out of place.
- What product category is the user a 'Top Contributor' for. I've seen paid reviews for electronic products from someone that is a 'Coloring book' top contributor.
- What do their other reviews look like? Is the new review longer, or better formatted than previous reviews?
- A telltale sign that someone sent them a review to copy/paste is that they all of a sudden leave a detailed, point-by-point, nicely formatted review when most of their other reviews are short paragraphs.
Beware of Products Labeled "Amazon's Choice"
Products labeled "Amazon's Choice" can give a false sense of security. While they look like products where Amazon is giving its stamp of approval, these are picked by an Amazon algorithm that is susceptible to fake reviews as it’s heavily based on product ratings. In Amazon’s own words:
"Amazon's Choice recommends highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately."
Don’t blindly trust a product with the label “Amazon’s Choice”. Instead, apply the same fake review spotting tactics we outlined here and avoid sellers who use fake reviews.
Bulk Reviews on the Same Date
Another telltale sign of a fake review is that they sometimes come in bulk within 1 or 2 days. Some of these companies are trying to outrun Amazon’s fake review detection algorithm. It goes something like this:
- Put up a new product
- Get a bunch of fake reviews within 1 or 2 days, with a combination of automation and just paying a cheap content farm of writers to write a lot of quick, low-quality reviews.
- Use that influx of 5-star reviews to rank up on some searches on Amazon. Some users, seeing that the product is highly rated and has hundreds of reviews, make a purchase.
- After a little while, Amazon catches on to the fake reviews, deleting the network of fake accounts and deleting all of their comments. By now, it’s too late for some users who have already purchased it.
Look at the other Products of the Seller
The seller’s other products can be a great indication of the trustworthiness of the company. You can see all of the products the company sells by clicking on the seller’s name:
What other products do they well? Does they look cheap? Are there some very low star rating reviews (they may have used the fake review trick in the past on other products and Amazon has caught on for those products but hasn’t caught on for this one). Do you notice some of their other products are rated all 5 stars or have any of the other issues we’ve highlighted above? If so, they likely employ fake reviews and you therefore shouldn’t trust them.
How to Spot Review Hijacking
Amazon allows sellers to have product ‘variants’. This is intended to be used for small differences in the same product, like selling a belt that comes in different colors where each variant is a different color, or a shirt of different sizes. Since Amazon expects all variants to be for the same underlying product, it merges all of the reviews of these variants into a single score for all variants. Product owners have used this loophole to get creative about how to trick you into thinking their product is better than it is. Here are 2 strategies I’ve seen:
- Product hijacking to look more popular. This isn’t necessarily a dishonest strategy, as many well respected brands use this strategy but I want you to be aware of it as it can trick you into thinking a new product is more popular than it is.
- Product hijacking to generate fake reviews. This one you have to be careful about. It’s when a seller uses a product variant that is a completely different product in order to generate reviews for the current product. One way to spot this is to look for reviews for a product variant that no longer exists.
You can also use a website like ReviewMeta to help figure this out.
Is the Brand Trustworthy?
When I was doing research on which flashlight I should buy to do a my review of the best Olight flashlights of 2019, I didn’t run into any problems with fake reviews. On the other hand, when I was looking for flashlights to review for my guide to the best flashlights under 20 dollars, I ran into many fake reviews. This was very predictable ahead of time. Why?
Well, Olight is a big company and a well known brand, so the chances that they employ over the top fake-review techniques is smaller as it’s a risk to their brand image. They definitely could use fake reviews, and I’m sure there are many well known brands who do, but the risk to me was low since, even if they did employ fake reviews to rank better than their competitors, they likely don’t use fake reviews to rank one of their bad flashlights higher than another so the risk to me was lower.
For an unknown one-off brand, the risk to their reputation isn’t there so the chances are higher that they’ll use fake reviews. It doesn’t mean that they will, and there are many fantastic products that don’t come from a well known brand, but you just have to be a bit more vigilant.
See if a Well-known Brand is Sold by the Actual Manufacturer
One way to increase your confidence in the product is if it’s directly sold by the manufacturer. You can check this by looking under the title of the product at the top.
To double check, click on the manufacturer and see what other products they sell on Amazon. Are they highly rated? Do other product they use have fake reviews?
Now, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a product that isn’t sold by the manufacturer as there are a lot of great re-sellers on Amazon... it’s just a signal that you have to be more vigilant when looking for fake reviews when it’s not sold by the original manufacturer as the main way you can tell if it’s selling the real product or a known-off is by reading the reviews.
Beware of Searching by Avg. Customer Rating
By default, Amazon does a search by 'Featured'. You can change this to sort by Avg. Customer Review. At first, this sounds like a good idea: ‘featured’ sounds like it might be something that product pages can pay to get to the top, while 'Avg. Customer Review' sounds like it might be more objective and therefore better for you. However, if a seller employs fake reviews, their products are more likely to rank at the top when searching by Avg. Customer Review so I'd be careful about doing this, especially in spammy categories like low cost electronics.
Don’t Discount a Product Just Because of a Lower Star Rating
Sellers sometimes post fake negative reviews on their competitors.
Also, some sellers attack their competitors by purchasing their products and then returning them. This not only lowers the ranking of the product of their competitor (since Amazon will notice that a lot of the products are being returned and therefore assume there’s a problem with it), but it also allows the the bad actor to leave fake negative verified reviews on their competitors products.
You can apply all of the methods mentioned in this post to spot these and perhaps give a chance to a great product that is getting unfairly penalized by negative reviews.
Do Some Research Outside of Amazon
One way to avoid Amazon fake reviews is to use review websites like GearReview.org (shameless plug :). We strongly believe the difference between great products can be quantified and therefore focus on presenting you with key data in an easy to compare format as part of our reviews.
You can also Google the product you're thinking of purchasing to see what others on the internet have to say which helps with avoiding fake Amazon reviews.