Bogus online reviews – what to watch out for

HeraldSunCredits: Herald Sun Business
By: John Rolfe

State fair trading authorities and ACCC investigating bogus reviews on internet

AT least 10 businesses have been sprung posting bogus reviews on the internet to dupe would-be customers.

Those suspected of feathering their own online nest include a major funeral company, a high-end restaurant and a building company spruiked by a prominent radio personality – as well as self-proclaimed “faith healers”.

Authorities say there has been “significant consumer detriment”.

For dodgy-doers, dotcom deception is irresistible because of the potential pay-off.

International research has found that when a restaurant’s rating out of five stars improved by just half a star the likelihood of it booking out at 7pm on any night it was open leapt from 30 per cent to 49 per cent.

Such is the level of concern about the fake review problem, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims nominated it as one of his “top priorities”.

Following this, state fair trading authorities across the country, backed by the ACCC, demanded 39 businesses substantiate testimonials on their websites. NSW issued 23 substantiation notices, South Australia six and Queensland and Victoria five each. At least 10 – and as many as 20 – could not show their reviews were real. Some agreed to remove the phony endorsements. At least two businesses remain under investigation – one in NSW and another in Victoria.

Investigators declined to name any of the 39. However the official report on the national probe says “high risk” industries include real estate, recruitment, restaurants, funeral services and alternative health.

NSW Fair Trading Minister Stuart Ayres, whose team led the national probe, said fake reviews had caused “significant consumer detriment”.

The report also says there has been an increase in “websites who offer cash for comment services”.

“Many of these websites are hosted internationally, but are offering online cash for comment services in Australia,” the report says. “Currently these services are unregulated. Without appropriate regulatory measures, it is likely that future growth in this online sector will result in an increase in the opportunities of Australian based businesses to source false testimonials.”

Bogus online reviews – what to watch out for

* Numbers do lie: Reviews from email addresses that end in at least three numbers – an automated programme probably created that review.

* Fake girl next door: Testimonials that all appear to be right near you. Special coding is being used to dupe you.

* No gripes: If a reviewer has absolutely nothing bad to say, they are probably making it up.

* Marketing speak: Testimonials that read like a media release or a advertisement.

* Over the to language: exaggerated praise urging customers to “go out and buy the product right now”.

* Competitor sprulking: A specific product is panned but a competing product is praised.

* Duplication: The same testimonial, or variations thereof, appears again and again.

* Claims of initial disinterest: The reviewer has “seen the light” and now feels compelled to share their positive experience.

* Repetition: Reviews that repeatedly cite the entire name and model of the product.

* Fake five-stars: Top marks but no specifics.

* A few too good to be true: There are only a few reviews and none are bad.

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