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In a report published on Sunday, the BBC found that fake reviews for products are rampant on major review sites, such as TrustPilot and eBay. And just like the faux reviews on Amazon, they have been paid for by the retailers and corporations.
For businesses, online reviews can make a world of difference in whether or not they are successful, with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority estimating that reviews potentially influence £23 billion of U.K. customer spending every year.
But consumers have begun to catch on and realize that many reviews on Amazon and other review websites are fake—despite the website’s efforts to ban “incentivized” reviews. Instead, efforts to buy and sell reviews now take place within Facebook groups.
BBC 5 reported that within minutes of joining one of those Facebook groups, it was approached with offers of full refunds on products bought on Amazon in exchange for positive reviews.
“5 star is better for us,” said one person to BBC. “We value our brand, will refund you as we promised … All my company do in this way.”
The BBC was also able to purchase a false 5-star eBay review on Trustpilot, an online review website that describes itself as “committed to being the most trusted online review community on the market.”
“Dan Box is one of the most respected professionals I have dealt with. It was a pleasure doing business with him,” BBC’s purchased review said.
Facebook has already banned more than a dozen groups dedicated to buying and selling reviews and both TrustPilot and Amazon insists they have a zero-tolerance policy for fake reviews. “We have specialist software that screens reviews against 100’s of data points around the clock to automatically identify and remove fakes,” TrustPilot said.
That may be true, but it’s unclear how TrustPilot stops a black-market review written by a real customer. The review sites have yet to propose methods to fix the problem, however, so shoppers will have to remain vigilant when they research potential purchases online.
Tess Cagle is a reporter who focuses on politics, lifestyle, and streaming entertainment. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, Damn Joan, and Community Impact Newspaper. She’s also a portrait, events, and live music photographer in Central Texas.