How to spot fake user reviews while shopping online

CNET professional reviewer Dong Ngo discusses how to spot fake user reviews online.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
3 min read
Anyone can write a user review... but how do you know if they're being truthful? CNET

It's Cyber Monday, and while you're busy shopping online, chances are you'll see lots of user reviews on various products. While the majority of those reviews do come from real users like yourself, who are passionate enough to share their opinions on a product, many of them could be fake, left by the vendors themselves to either promote their product or, in some cases, smear competitors.

While it's exceedingly difficult to absolutely prove that a review is faked, here are a few tips on spotting those that aren't from real users. These will come in handy -- not just today, but whenever you go shopping online.

Absolute singing of praises with no downsides; or a total dismissal of any good qualities
When was the last time you approved of a product unquestioningly without any negatives? No matter how good an item might be, chances are it also has one or two shortcomings, however minor. That said, a five-star review with unqualified compliments, such as "perfect" or "absolutely the best," that offers no downside to balance those opinions, may be a plant.

Conversely, chances are also good that a review that dismisses a product in absolute terms is from either a competitor or a fanboy of another brand.

Reviewers' names
Reviewers' names are also telling in determining whether a review is legit. Generally, fake reviewers don't take the time to create real names and tend to go with variations of another screen name, or choose meaningless random names, such as beatsjam1234, pfb6736, nb32003, and so forth.

Review dates
The date of the review offers lots of information about how genuine it is. If you have a number of five-star reviews on the same product, posted on or around the same date and written in a similar tone, chances are they are counterfeit. Also, if a user review professing extensive hands-on experience is published before the release date of a product or even just a couple days after it hits stores, it's also likely a ruse. It takes a long time for a typical end-user to compile real-life experience with a product. Typical of this are the early user reviews on high-profile products (iPhones, game consoles, and so forth), which often appear days or weeks before the products have been released (but after they've been announced).

A single review per account
Generally, you have to create a user account to write a review. If you see an account that has posted just one single review for a particular product, or reviews only products from a single vendor, it's highly likely that it's a fake review. In this case, the date the account was created and the date of the review are also very telling, especially when they are the same.

The tone of the review
The tone of the review is probably the most telling factor when assessing how real a review is. If you spot a review that reads like a press release or a commercial, offering information about features and extolling how superior the product is when compared with its competition, that review is most likely planted by the vendor.

Reviews with ratings that fall in between are generally more legitimate and useful. Also note that real users talk more about reliability, performance, and overall value, and they are almost never happy about high costs.

How about you? Have you ever left a user review? If you have more tips on how to spot fake reviews, please leave them in the comments section.