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Fighting back against fake online reviews

One popular website is suing over phony reviews in an effort to stop companies from gaming the system.

By Mitch Lipka Jul 25, 2013 4:21PM
Image: Couple looking at computer ©, a popular auto information site, is suing a company it claims tried to create more than 2,200 registrations to make comments about car dealerships.

The lawsuit against Humankind Design Ltd. accuses the company of fraud -- in its attempt to alter public perception of certain dealerships. Reviews were posted through the company's website.

The case brings out in the open the issue with so-called reputation management companies, which are engaged to try and alter perceptions of businesses through social media. These orchestrated posts can create challenges for consumers, who are increasingly doing online research before making a purchasing decision.

Indeed, the volume and sophistication of the operations creating fake reviews can change the landscape for consumers in search of the real experiences of others consumers. A recent study concluded that a larger percentage of fake reviews could be posted than originally believed.

Although the Glowingreviews site was down on Thursday afternoon, a look at a cached copy of the site provides insight into how it works.

A company that wants to juice its reputation pays a monthly fee and then writes up its own reviews to be posted to various sites. In order to get the pieces in place for the businesses to post their reviews, Glowingreviews explains that it has to create in advance the user accounts that the reviews will come from.

"...because we need to pre make the accounts in order make them premium we have to create name, gender, etc ahead of time," the site's FAQ says. "Because we don't know which customers will get which accounts, we had to make them all women or couples. Please keep the reviews non gender specific or spoken as a woman if you must choose a gender."

Edmunds, like other sites that have had to deal with the issue of fake reviews, wants to be seen as policing its comments -- anything that can be done to ensure what you see is real.

"Unlike many ratings services, we don't publish any dealer reviews until they are hand-screened by our staff members to make sure that they are compliant with our standards," President Seth Berkowitz said. "Car shoppers and dealers can trust that we at do everything we can to prevent fake and otherwise inappropriate reviews from appearing on our site."

Consider this advice about online reviews we dispensed just a couple of weeks back:

  • 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 28, 2013 9:03AM
I have found that some of the sites want me as a consumer to review a product before I even get it, in the mail. How can I give it a fair review before I get the product?
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