How to Spot Fake Online Reviews

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Fake reviews are a big problem for businesses because they can be easy to miss and they can quickly damage a brand’s reputation and erode customer trust. 

Despite each review site’s tight rules and regulations—that ban solicited, forced, incentivized, and fake reviews—many businesses and individuals still manage to pull a fast one.

In this article, learn how to spot fake online reviews to keep your clients safe from bad actors and competitors who post fake and negative reviews. 

How prevalent are fake online reviews?

Fake online reviews on sites like Google My Business and Yelp are a big and fast-growing problem. 

  • In 2020, Google said it “blocked or removed 55 million policy-violating reviews and nearly 3 million fake Business Profiles.”
  • In 2022, Yelp’s Trust and Safety report said that Yelp closed over 74,500+ user accounts for terms of service violations and suspected deceptive and abusive actions. Yelp also rejected over 32,800 potential new business pages for being associated with spammy activities that violated Yelp’s policies.
  • In 2021, FTC identified 700 enterprises with fake endorsements. These included big names like Ford Motor Company, Walmart, and Walt Disney Company. As a consequence, FTC issued a notice that fake advertising can attract financial penalties of up to $43,792 per violation.

How to spot fake online reviews

These are some telltale signs to watch out for spotting fake reviews:

Check the reviewer’s profile

One way to spot a fake review is by checking the reviewer’s profile. A phony profile may have only one review, a fake photo (or none at all), or use a generic name like “Jane Doe.”  This means that the profile was created just to post that one review. 

For instance, a real reviewer most likely has a profile picture, some reviews, and some updates and photos posted on the account. 

On the other hand, a fake reviewer profile has a generic John Doe name, either no photos or only stock or AI-generated images, and no updates on its profile.

Examine the timing of reviews

Bursts of positive or negative reviews all posted on the same day or around the same time usually means a fake reviewer. 

When people are posting reviews using software, that software may trigger hundreds of fake reviews around the same time. These reviews are spammy and easy to spot, which is why they’re immediately removed using reputation management software.

Check for template phrases

To spot fake reviews, check for template phrases or language patterns that seem scammy. Multiple reviews with generic wording and a lack of details about the product or service can tell you if a review is fake. 

People who genuinely want to share their opinions tend to want to share their experience and will include details about the product or service. 

For instance, Is the reviewer posting specific details about the product or service? Or is the review vague, general, and includes irrelevant details? 

When checking for reviews, you may go: okay, but what’s the product like?

A vague/misleading review can be a fake review.

Look for overly positive or negative language

Now this one requires a gut check. You make the call whether a review is overly hyped or critical. 

However, be wary of phony language like, “My dream Sunday would be…” You can spot a fake review by looking at unrealistic, exaggerated details.

Beware of reviews from non-verified purchases

You’d expect that a reviewer has purchased a product or service prior to posting a review. But, it is possible for people to leave reviews without having actually used the product or service. It can potentially impact the credibility and reliability of the reviews.

Always look for the sign of verified purchase to spot if the review is authentic.

A verified purchase sign appears next to a review on ecommerce platforms like Amazon when the reviewer has actually purchased the product through the platform. 

Pro Tip: A verified purchase is not always enough, especially on Amazon, where it is common to give someone a “discount” or freebie” in exchange for a review.   

These incentivized reviews can sometimes be hard to spot but there are some giveaway clues. An incentivized review may include templated language as the business might provide templates of what reviewers can say in the review box. 

Remember, not all signs are definitive proof of incentivized reviews (except if it’s stated inside the review) but extremely positive reviews may be incentivized. 

Reviews that look like an ad are most likely fake

If a review looks like an ad, with lots of promotion and not much detail, it might be fake. These reviews focus more on selling the product or service instead of giving an honest opinion. 

Look for customer jacking

Customer jacking means that a business pays to have its name thrown around on the pages of its competitor’s products. And before you think it’s dead, people are still hiring folks on Fiverr and elsewhere to post these fake reviews. 

This customer jacking scam usually works like this: 

  • Instead of posting a product review, the fake reviewer will write a negative review and then say how much they loved another business’s product instead.
  • The reviewer might even add a promo offer or special discount for others ( because they’re an affiliate themselves or because they’re paid to say so).

Look for off-topic reviews

Pointing out a brand’s hiring or firing decisions, policies, or rules to tarnish the brand’s reputation would be considered a fake review because it’s off-topic (and in bad taste).

You can learn how to flag and remove these kinds of reviews in the last section of this article. 

Look for reviews that use “we” instead of “I”

To spot fake reviews, pay attention to whether the reviewer uses “we” instead of “I” when talking about their personal experience. Using “we” instead of “I” could suggest that the review is not from an individual customer but potentially fabricated. Here’s a simple explanation with an example:

For example, if someone writes, “We went to the restaurant and loved it,”, that might indicate that it is a fake review. Real reviews usually use “I” because they share personal opinions and experiences.

Use review verification tools

You can use both free and paid review verification tools to spot fake reviews. 

On the free side, Yelp’s Review Filter automatically identifies and hides potentially fake reviews. While not a standalone tool, it helps to reduce the number of fake reviews on the platform.

In addition, if you use a marketing platform that has reputation management features built-in, like HighLevel, you can not only solicit new reviews but stay on top of all of the reviews that come in across all of your review sites. This leads to faster replies for all new reviews, including being able to investigate and respond to fake ones. 

Trust your gut

When spotting fake reviews, just trust your gut. 

If you notice phrases, profiles, or reviews on online review sites that seem like spam, it’s because they usually are spam. You can report spam reviews by clicking on options like “Report” or “Flag” to save others from falling for them. 

How to Report a Fake Review on GMB

If you get a bad Google review that violates its policies, you can get it removed by following these steps.

  1. Log into your Google Business Profile.
  2. Go to “Reviews.”
    GMB Reviews
  3. Locate the review you want to report.
  4. Click on the three vertical dots on the right-hand side and choose “Flag as inappropriate”.
    Report Review GMB
  5. Select the reason for flagging and enter your information.
    Review Reason GMB

Google reviews are subject to Google’s policies and guidelines, and not all flagged reviews may be removed. Google checks the flagged reviews on a case-by-case basis and decides whether they should be removed or not (based on their policies).

If Google refuses to remove your review, you can either go click on community and share your concerns so that a Google expert might see your post and help you out. The other, more direct option would be to contact support and rest your case.

How to Report a Fake Review on Yelp

To report fake reviews on Yelp, you can follow these steps:

  1. Sign in to your Yelp account.
  2. Find the specific review that you want to report.
  3. Click on the three-dot menu and select “Report review” from the dropdown. 
    Report a Review Yelp
  4. Provide details and submit the report. Yelp’s moderation team will see the reported review and remove it if it is found to be in violation of their guidelines.

Spotting and removing fake reviews is crucial for both customers and businesses. When you spot fake reviews, you keep your clients and their customers safe from false information and help them make informed decisions. This helps build a strong reputation and trust for your business and your client’s businesses.

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