KANSAS CITY, Mo. — We’ve all read them. Glowing five-star reviews about everything from hotels to restaurants. But how many of them are real?
One expert said there are more fake reviews circulating than even the most skeptical among us would expect.
“The scope of the problem is just massive,” said Kay Dean, a former federal investigator, who runs a website dedicated solely to exposing companies who pay for fake reviews. It’s called Fake Review Watch.
Among those companies she has tracked using fake reviews is Integrity Chiropractic in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Just last year, Integrity had 241 Google reviews and a five-star rating, but then Dean took a closer look.
Fifteen of those supposed Integrity patients also left a review for the same orthodontist in Wisconsin, more than 500 miles away. Ten of Integrity’s patients reviewed the same podiatrist in New York and the same endodontist in Phoenix. Seven used the same endocrinologist in Florida.
After Dean posted about Integrity’s suspicious five-star reviews, Google removed more than 100 of them.
FOX4 Problem Solvers called Integrity for comment. The woman answering the phone said she had noticed the dramatic decrease in reviews, but did not think the company was aware of any fake reviews being removed.
FOX4 pointed out to her that fake reviews are generally purchased by a business. She said she would ask the doctor/owner to contact us. That was more than a month ago and we’re still waiting to hear back.
Integrity is not alone. Dean also found multiple suspicious reviews at two metro tanning salons that she believes come from a network of fake reviewers. We called the two tanning salons for comment.
The owner of True Spray Tans said she has never purchased any fake reviews, but said someone else handles marketing for the company. She would not tell us who that person is. Fix Beauty Spray Tan in Leawood did not return our phone calls.
So how do you tell if a review is fake?
FOX4 asked several KC-area residents that question and several told us that they would never trust a business based on a single review. They read multiple reviews (often dozens) before deciding. Others told us that they dismiss most positive reviews and concentrate on the negative ones when choosing a company or a service.
Here’s a few tips from Dean:
Take a hard look at the photo accompanying a reviewer’s profile. Dean showed FOX4 multiple reviewer profiles that contained stock photos.
Does the business you’re considering have hundreds of more reviews than its competitors ?
Are many of the reviews written by people with new profiles?
Were a lot of the reviews from the same day or week?
One thing FOX4 Problem Solvers found interesting were the staggering number of five-star reviews for several marijuana dispensaries in Kansas City. Each had more than 1,000 reviews – just from the past year.
Many reviewers left their full name. Although we can’t prove these are fake reviews, dispensaries are a type of business where many customers don’t even like to be interviewed because they don’t want other people knowing they use weed.
Serena Viswanathan with the Federal Trade Commission told FOX4: “It’s not always easy for consumers to spot fake reviews. But sometimes there are suspicious trends and you spotted one.”
Viswanathan said the FTC has proposed new rules that will make it easier for the government to fine companies up to $50,000 per violation for using fake reviews and testimonials. It’s already against FTC regulations for companies to pay people to leave a review.
The earliest the new rule will go into effect is next year.
Dean said she was thrilled the FTC is cracking down on fake reviews, but wishes more would be done to hold the companies responsible that allow those reviews to be posted. As Dean said, if she can spot fake reviews by simply using a laptop and a spreadsheet, surely Google can.
In the meantime, watch out for a guy named Buford Neely. According to his reviews on Google, when Buford’s not enjoying a spray tan in Kansas, he’s buying a used car in Toronto, Canada, or visiting his doctor in New Braunfels, Texas and his dentist in Australia.