Fake Reviews

Jay Park, Web Editor

  Online retailers are taking over. Amazon alone is crippling the markets of its physical competitors. Because of it, Barnes & Nobles and other bookstores are on the verge of extinction because they are outclassed by the more convenient and lower-priced nature of online shopping. Trends show no signs of stopping. In recent years, online retailers have emerged as the dominant force on the marketplace with the exception of groceries, and even that may not be true in a few years. Forrester Research’s surveys in late 2016 showed that more than half of the people in the United States, approximately 190 million Americans, shopped online.

  While this cyber tidal wave is good for us consumers, there are new dangers that lurk these waters. The digital world is still nowhere close to being safe. Hacking is always a possibility, and it threatens to steal our personal information. Putting our debit or credit card on the line adds fuel to the fire.

  Much of these risks can be prevented through smart decision making. One can stay safe by only purchasing through trusted big companies, which is one reason why Amazon has remained popular. The corporation offers an expansive variety of products for prices that rival, and often beat, physical retailers that sell the item. Its speedy delivery and high security make it only more appealing. But even in big name retailers there are some hidden traps that could trick cautious customers.

  I unfortunately went through the experience twice this year. As a diligent, studious sophomore, I got ready for my Advanced Placement Chemistry subject test a month in advance. My schedule was set and all I needed were practice tests. After some research, I found out that Sterling test prep book was made “specially” for the subject test had a lot of practice resources. At first glance all the reviews for the product seemed encouraging. It was only after I had completed the entire book along with its thousand practice test questions that I felt something was off. None of these problems felt remotely similar to the couple of practice tests I took from other publishing companies. After looking at the Amazon reviews a bit more closely, I was furious. Nearly all the positive 5-star reviews were fake, their account history proved that they were essentially paid to do so.

  A few months later when memories of this incident faded, it resurfaced in an unexpected manner. While preparing for the ACT, I bought some of the Barron’s materials. Those with prior experience with AP tests would know that Barron’s has a good reputation. Two practice tests in and I already felt the uncomfortable hunch I had with the Sterling resources. Once again, the Amazon reviews, under close inspection, were all artificial.

  Being tricked like this is a troublesome waste of time and money. Companies pay people to leave good reviews for their products. There are even special click farms, usually located in countries like India, that will spam hundreds of “authentic” reviews. This boosts initial sales by encouraging people to buy the product, assured by the fake comments. As long as they are sold, it doesn’t matter if the products are garbage.

  Fortunately, there are some precautions one can take in order to avoid these pitfalls. It doesn’t take too long, so make sure to check the account histories of the people who leave suspiciously enthusiastic reviews by clicking on their name. Think about it, there is no real motivation to write reviews if the product is fine. There is no reason to spew one’s love and appreciation for a product online even if it is that good. Reviews should often be critical if they are written, talking about the faults that a product may have. You should really look into no-name brands with few products that have suspiciously high numbers of reviews. They can be identified especially if they don’t even have a company website. You will also know that you are being deceived if you see that the commenters have seven straight reviews of products produced by a single company, as shown in the slideshows above.

   Another method is to copy and paste the URL of the item in question into Fakespot. It is a handy website that analyzes every review’s comments and outputs a grade that judges how trustworthy the item may be. A grade of A or B should be safe for purchase. Fraudulent items like the Sterling and Barron’s books will have a low grade of D or F. 

  As shopping on the Internet becomes more and more prevalent, it is the responsibility of the consumer to make well-educated decisions, as it is for their own sake. Even well-known companies will do what they can do raise their sales. Keep a sharp eye on what you buy, and in the future you won’t have to suffer through the embarrassment of being deceived.