Word of the day: astroturfing. Even if you've never heard of it, chances are, you've encountered it. Here's the scoop: Increasingly, retailers and manufacturers ask their customers to write positive reviews of their products or services on various websites—sometimes offering a discount for doing so. Advertising and public-relations agencies have also gotten in on the act, masquerading online as delighted consumers. And like the faux grass, these reviews appear to be genuine but aren't. Here are some tips to help you discern the difference between a fake endorsement and the real deal.
Examine the review's language. "A real review is typically more moderate in its praise," says John Falcone, an executive editor of Cnet.com, a technology-review site. Also, watch for a description of the user's experience: "Authentic reviews provide specific information about how the item performed," says Michelle Madhok, the founder of SheFinds.com, a shopping-advice website. Be wary of reviews with formal product names, model numbers, or tech or marketing jargon.
Investigate the reviewer. Some sites, like Amazon.com, cross-reference user reviews with their buyer database and label those people as "verified purchasers" of the merchandise that they're reviewing. These are the most reliable reviewers. However, you should be skeptical of assessments from onetime critics.
Check the timing and the number of reviews. It can be a red flag if there are multiple accolades for a product or a service—especially a new one—in a brief span of time (say, 30 minutes), says Falcone. They may have been written by bogus critics looking to create some promotional buzz.
Watch this video for more tips for spotting fake online reviews.