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Are online reviews reliable? Detecting the fake versus the real

Extremely useful on Amazon, there are many ways that fake reviews can be posted to manipulate consumers, but with the help of AI there may be ways for you to detect real from the fraud

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Amazon Prime Day scored $12 billion in sales this year for the online retail giant, with shoppers often relying on reviews.

“If most of the reviews are negative, I move on to the next thing,” said Volanda Brown, an online shopper. “Because everyone isn’t going to tell the same lie.”

But are all reviews reliable?

“If they use the same language or same number of exclamation points, or dot dot dots. It’s usually the same company paying for those,” online shopper Caroline Gormely said.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said as many as 40 percent of online reviews are fake. Amazon said it uses AI technology to hunt for fake reviews and tells us it blocked 200 million last year alone.

The Federal Trade Commission is now proposing a rule to stop marketers from paying for positive reviews. If they do, they could face civil penalties.

In the meantime, there are free tools consumers can use to spot fake reviews.

Apps like Review Meta and Fakespot analyze billions of reviews across several retail sites. Just copy the product URL you’re curious about, and the company will grade its authenticity.

“We provide a grading system," said Saoud Khalifah, founder and CEO of Fakespot. "It’s an A to F kind of grading system. The A grade means there’s a majority of trustworthy reviews. F means that there’s a majority of reviews that you should look at with a closer eye.”

He said certain products tend to be targets.

“Things like USB cables have a very high preponderance of fake reviews. And last I checked, it was about 45 percent of the reviews in that category would be unreliable,” Khalifah said.

So what can you do to spot a potentially fake review?

The FTC says to look for information on a product from a variety of sources. Watch out if there’s a sudden burst of reviews on a particular item, and keep in mind that a negative review could also be fake and designed to harm a competitor.

When reviews are mostly positive, Fakespot has a suggestion.

“Take a look at the negative reviews or even the 3-star mid-level reviews and try to see what the problems are with the product. The price may be really good, but if it breaks within one week you’re not going to be really satisfied with that,” Khalifah said.

If you spot a fake review on a product, you can use the “report” link on Amazon.

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