If you’re shopping for some headphones on Amazon how do you choose between the hundreds of products available?
One way is to look at the reviews to see what other people think of them first.
There’s just one problem – doing that cold see you tricked into buying something by dishonest reviewers.
And it’s not just a problem with headphones, a Which? investigation has found.
Which? found unknown brands were the top-rated items across a string of categories – often with thousands of five-star reviews.
But when you dig a little deeper, you can see the reviews are unverified and frequently all placed on the same day – both warning signs when it comes to reviews.
The scale of the problem
When Which? searched for headphones, and ranked the results by “average customer review, all the products on the first page were made by unknown brands.
But almost nine in 10 of 12,000+ reviews for these products were from unverified purchasers.
When Mirror Money checked, things hadn’t improved – with the top-ranked headphones having 180 reviews, every one of them five-stars, every one posted on the same day, and not one of them verified.
When Which? looked at smartwatches it also found every device on the first page of results was from an unknown brand – with unverified reviews making up 99% of reviews for the top four products.
The same story was repeated for action cameras, fitness trackers and wireless security cameras.
The good news is not all products have this problem, with just 8% of top-rated TVs and tablets and 4% of radios from unknown brands, Which? found.
How to tell if a review is to be trusted
Which? is advising shoppers to take extra care buying products from brands they haven’t heard of – no matter what the reviews say.
Natalie Hitchins from Which? said: “To avoid being misled and possibly buying a dud product, customers should always take reviews with a pinch of salt and look to independent and trustworthy sources when researching a purchase.”
These are Which?’s tips on how to spot a fake review:
Take extra care shopping for brands you don’t know – Scrutinise customer reviews even more carefully if you’re looking to buy a brand you don’t recognise as our research indicates they are significantly more likely to be affected by fake reviews.
Be suspicious of large numbers of reviews – If you see hundreds or even thousands of reviews – be suspicious, especially if they are largely positive.
Look for repetition – If you see the same review titles, repetitive phrases or even the same reviewer name appear more than once on a product, it’s very likely that it has been targeted by fake reviews.
Filter to check for unverified versus verified reviews – Reviews marked as ‘verified’ are those that Amazon can confirm were purchased at its website. Unverified reviews do not undergo any such checks. Therefore, unverified reviews are far easier to ‘fake’ – in that they could be written by someone who has had no experience at all with the product.
Look at the dates – If large numbers of reviews were posted on the same day, or in a short period of time, it’s very likely that they are fake – especially if they are also unverified.
Check seller profiles – Things you might be wary of are foreign seller locations, strange business names, a lack of contact details, and of course, negative reviews of the seller. Check out the seller profile page before you buy to see if anything seems out of place.
Amazon is known to take a tough stance against people leaving fake reviews on its site.
In 2015 it launched a legal action against 1,114 people for leaving “false, misleading and inauthentic” reviews on the site.
In the past it has also sued a number of websites in April for selling fake reviews.
So what was its response to Which?’s latest findings?
A spokesman told Mirror Money: “Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers. Even one inauthentic review is one too many.”
Amazon added it has clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and that it suspends, ban, and takes legal action on those who violate our policies.
As to how it stops fake reviews, Amazon said: “We use a combination of teams of investigators and automated technology to prevent and detect inauthentic reviews at scale, and to take action against the bad actors behind the abuse.
“We estimate more than 90% of inauthentic reviews are computer generated, and we use machine learning technology to analyse all incoming and existing reviews 24/7 and block or remove inauthentic reviews.
“Our team investigates suspect reviews, works with social media sites to stop inauthentic reviews at the source, pursues legal action to stop offenders from planning reviews abuse, and feeds new information into our automated systems so it continues to improve and become more effective in catching abuse.
“We work hard to enrich the shopping experience for our customers [and selling partners] with authentic reviews written by real customers. Customers can help by reporting any requests they get to manipulate reviews to customer service.”