Sales shoppers warned about fake online reviews


Shoppers in Staffordshire are being urged to look out for fake online reviews during the Boxing Day and January sales period.

According to National Trading Standards (NTS), people across the country have bought an estimated 80 million items on the basis of positive online reviews only to be disappointed when they arrive.

NTS added that consumer trust in online reviews is fuelling a surge in criminals using them to sell poor quality goods and services.

The survey found that 56% of online shoppers use online reviews as a deciding factor when making a purchase and 67% are more likely to buy a product or service if it has a five-star rating. Research also highlighted that just one in five people check the timing and spacing of reviews online and only 18% look at reviewers' activity history, which can provide useful information about whether they are genuine.

Trading Standards officers from Staffordshire County Council are now urging people to look more carefully at reviews and have offered the below advice.

  • Timing and spacing – check for multiple similar reviews that have been uploaded within a few minutes or hours.

  • Reviewer’s history – check out the reviewer’s activity – if an account has been activated recently or has only reviewed a narrow range of products/services, this could indicate suspicious activity.

  • Vague language – legitimate reviews will often be personal and specific to the individual’s experience of using the item, whilst a fake is more likely to be vague, using generic words and phrases such as ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘buy this product’.

  • Can you contact them? – if a reviewer is happy to be contacted with questions, and is responsive, it’s a good sign they’re legitimate

  • Use a browser plug-in – plug-ins use artificial intelligence to analyse reviews, identify suspicious activity and suggest better alternatives to consumers

  • Look beyond the star rating – whilst a star rating of 4.5 or 5 can be a good indicator of quality, don’t go by this alone – look at the reviews too and check them against these tips.

Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Staffordshire County Council said: “With so much choice these days when you’re shopping and some tempting prices it’s really hard to know what to go for.

“This is where genuine reviews can be helpful but as we’ve seen from this research you do need to be careful that they aren’t fake or are a scam. Most of us will scan through reviews fairly quickly but by following our simple tips you should be able to spot those fake reviews and hopefully have a safe shopping experience.

“If you suspect you have lost money after being conned by a fake online review, you should report it to Action Fraud or seek advice from a Citizens Advice Scams Action adviser.”

Mike Andrews from National Trading Standards added: “Bogus online reviews damage legitimate businesses and prop up those seeking to make a fast buck by selling shoddy goods.

“Many of those we surveyed said they felt deceived, conned and tricked after unwittingly falling for the fakes, often only realising the reviews were suspicious when it was too late. We urge those doing their shopping online to look out for fake online reviews and avoid being left out of pocket by using our tips.”

For advice and information on how to check if something might be an online scam, call the Citizens Advice Scams Action service on 0808 250 5050. People can also protect their neighbours by joining Friends Against Scams, which provides free online training to empower people to take a stand against scams.

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