Consumer Protection: Spot the clues of fake online reviews

Steph MarshAlbany Advertiser
Steph Marsh, senior regional officer for Great Southern, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
Camera IconSteph Marsh, senior regional officer for Great Southern, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. Credit: Supplied/RegionalHUB

Word-of-mouth recommendations in the real world can be a useful tool when deciding which product or service to buy, however the same can’t always be said when seeking out this type of guidance online.

Nearly 40 per cent of consumers turn to the internet to read user reviews as part of their research, according to an investigation by consumer advocacy group CHOICE, but it may not be immediately obvious whether the experience you’re reading about belongs to a genuine customer or has been written by the business itself, a disgruntled ex-employee or even a competitor.

Scammers also appear to be in on the action, promoting jobs on encrypted message platforms and social media that falsely promise to pay their victims for clicking on links to write fake reviews.

Fictitious testimonials not only diminish the trust and good faith between traders and consumers, they are also illegal under the Australian Consumer Law, which prevents businesses from creating a false impression about their goods or services.

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Consumer Protection has and will take action against companies that publish fake online reviews and testimonials where there is sufficient proof, but in the meantime urges consumers to watch out for some common red flags that may help them avoid being duped in the first place.

Look for a spike in highly positive or negative reviews over a short period of time — this could be the work of a company trying to appear more favourable to potential customers, or of somebody else with an ulterior motive.

Compare reviews across the platform or website and look for repetitive language, multiple entries from the same email or IP address, as well as those from similar names.

Generic or one-word reviews that lack specific detail about the business or product could also be a sign of the same material being copied and pasted by AI bots or paid reviewers.

Be aware that some platforms require proof of purchase before allowing reviews to be published, so these may be more reliable than the ones that don’t.

Consumers who believe they have been misled by fake testimonials or reviews can contact us by email consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or call 1300 30 40 54.

Steph Marsh is the senior regional officer for the Great Southern at the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety.

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