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Fake product reviews widespread

Study of online reviews finds many more 'counterfeit' than originally believed. And not from paid reviewers, either.

By Mitch Lipka Jul 8, 2013 6:27PM

Image: Skeptical woman (© Image Source/age fotostock)Even though many sites that feature consumer reviews have tried to control fake comments -- which are sometimes paid for by businesses with an interest in shifting public opinion -- a new threat is on the horizon, according to a recently released study.


Real customers of companies are writing numerous negative reviews about products they haven't bought, according to research by Duncan Simester, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Eric Anderson, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.


"We know of situations where online reviews are manipulated in a strategic way," Simester said. "But rather than being posted by a handful of rogue reviewers, our research revealed very critical comments by real people, most of whom have been very loyal customers."


The unusual aspect of the discovery is that there is no apparent financial incentive for the reviews as is the case when someone is engaged to disparage a competitor or prop up a particular product or business.


"These findings suggest that the phenomenon of deceptive reviews may be far more prevalent that we would otherwise think," Simester said.


The study looked at comments posted to the web site of a clothing company that has "hundreds of thousands of product reviews." An analysis of the reviews showed approximately 5% of the reviews were by consumers who did not seem to have purchased the items. And those reviews, the study found, were far more negative than the rest of the reviews. The professors said they also looked at book reviews on and found a similar pattern.


Simester said that even though a small percentage of people generate the reviews -- less than 2% of customers -- the reviews appear to have some impact on what people purchase.

It isn't clear why these people are writing so many negative reviews, although Simester suggested a couple of possibilities. These consumers "may be acting as self-appointed brand managers" and make the comments as a means of trying to guide the company. Or they may be trying to build "their perceived social status through demonstration of their expertise.”


When reading reviews of products online, it's important to apply some filters before making a decision based on them. While some phony reviews stand out, some appear legitimate at first glance.

Here are some tips to consider when reading reviews:

  • Be skeptical of those with overly glowing language or marketing terms as well as those that seem to go to an extreme in a negative direction. You'll get a better sense of reality from those that focus on the actual experience or use of a product.
  • If a review really catches your attention, click on the reviewer's name to see other comments posted by the same person. It can give you a sense whether the commenter is a serial complainer or perhaps only writes positive reviews for a certain brand.
  • Be leery of reviews that try to explain away problems cited in other reviews.

More from MSN Money:

Jul 9, 2013 2:00PM
This article is a load of garbage, though I admit I didn't actually read it.
Jul 9, 2013 2:34PM
I'm not sure it can be called a "review" but I think the absolute most FAKE of all advertising is the "ask your doctor' ads but I also believe they are some of the most successful.  Doctor offices now are filled year round. If you need an appointment, you are lucky to get one within a few months.  If one really needed a doctor, they would die before getting an appointment.  Those ads must cost millions and they are back to back, day and night all week long throughout the year.  They plainly tell you some of the junk may kill you and still people flock to whitecoats.  If I could do anything fo rmy country, it would be to warn people of the addiction, destruction and death associated with whitecoat visits and "ask your doctor" ads.
Jul 9, 2013 3:24PM
My fellow Americans!  Please BEWARE of "ask your doctor, tell your doctor" ads, "we kin gitche sum moni" lawyer ads, "revers mortgage" Taliban gonna take your house ads, "easy and affrodable $9 a month" life inshawance ads, and "medicare supplement" ads.  Also, any other ads that promise you the world until you have a claim.  Read the small print.  Ever noticied you don't get an inshawance policy until AFTER you've paid a payment????  If they were up front, wouldn't you get a policy to read BEFORE you take the inshawnce????  I have often been told "if it is Good, it doesn't need much advertising!' Very good advice!  If it is good, people will be telling how good it is!!!
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