Can You Trust Customer Reviews of Products? — When you visit Amazon, Walmart, Etsy, Wayfair, and other online retailers, do you look for good product reviews? We do! But what if some of those reviews are from paid reviewers or are fake reviews? How common might it be for either retailers or product manufacturers to artificially “game” their reviews, or reviews of their competitors? We’ve looked into this before and thought it was time to do so again. If you think all reviews can be trusted, think again! There is an AI tool to help evaluate Amazon reviews as being legitimate or not, and decipher the complex landscape of reviews. Since we first addressed this topic, it seems that the landscape of suspicious reviews has become even more complicated. Come improve your ability to spot truth from fiction about product reviews…
A frequently needed product in today’s electronic age are earbuds to accompany our many devices, including smart phones. We looked at a pair of HISOOS A90 Pro’s listed on Amazon. On August 6, 2023, this pair was listed for $34.99 and had 1,029 ratings (including 581 written reviews), giving this product a score of 4.4 stars. This was offered as an “Amazon Choice.” On the surface, these 1,029 ratings seemed a solid number to help us consider this product.
ReviewMeta.com is a website that has created algorithms to assess reviews of products on Amazon. (We’ve written about this excellent tool in the past to see through fake reviews, including our Top Stories on 6/15/2022 “Four Reasons Why You Can’t Trust Amazon or Google” and 5/27/2020 “Reality Online is Anything But Real.” When we asked ReviewMeta to look at these earbuds we were surprised at the results. Rather than saying “all is well” with the posted reviews, or perhaps we found “suspicious reviews” intended to boost the rating of these earbuds, we got an unexpected warning! ReviewMeta’s algorithm had detected a “large amount of suspicious negative reviews.”
It appears that 179 (nearly 31%) of all 581 reviews were flagged as suspiciously negative! (Star ratings are not the same as written reviews and are not evaluated as reviews are evaluated.) If you read the detailed report on ReviewMeta for these reviews you’ll see, for example, that some negative reviews were removed because they were made on a “high volume” day of reviews and by reviewers who gave products only 1-star ratings or used “repeated phrases.” Such behaviors earn these reviewers a “0” Trust Score. Compounding the review landscape was the fact that ReviewMeta reported some of the reviewers had some of their prior reviews deleted. They call these folks “Take-Back Reviewers” and these reviewers are considered less credible.
Another interesting consideration, as we read the detailed reviewer report of these earbuds, was the History of reports on file for this product. This product had originally been reviewed by ReviewMeta on May 24, 2023 and there were 758 ratings at that time. None of those were found to be suspicious. However, On August 6, there were 271 more ratings added to this Amazon product since May 24. ReviewMeta found that 66% (179) of these newer ratings were suspiciously negative! This is not what we expected.
Usually, when we find large numbers of suspicious reviews, they pump product ratings higher, not lower. But in the end, even after accounting for ReviewMeta’s assessment, there was no overall “R Adjustment,” leaving Amazon’s most recent review value at 4.4. For a contrast, we turned our attention to three possible choices for a “Men’s Probiotic” supplement and we were, again, surprised by what we found at ReviewMeta.com. Here is a screenshot of the 3 probiotic choices from Amazon that we randomly evaluated.
All of these products appeared to be very highly rated on Amazon on August 5, 2023. Our initial guess was that if any of these product reviews were being manipulated it was most likely the one with the fewest number of ratings, 446 for TruBiotics. However, the opposite was true! The proverbial “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” applies to this comparison of probiotics. Also remember that Ratings are not the same as consumer Reviews! This is an important distinction. Star ratings on Amazon cannot be assessed by the algorithms of ReviewMeta, as explained in their blog article. They can only evaluate reviews posted by consumers. TruBiotics may have had the fewest number of ratings by consumers of these 3 choices, but they had the highest number of verified reviews that passed all evaluative measures from ReviewMeta. On the other hand, 36% of all the reviews (not ratings) of SBO Probiotics, were found to be “unnatural” (suspicious). Also, 29% of Friska Men’s Daily Probiotic were found to be suspicious. These evaluations caused ReviewMeta to drop their rating score from 4.6 and 4.5 both to 4.0. By contrast, TruBiotics started and remained at a 4.7 score! (If you’re interested to see their top 9 WORST and BEST rated products on their site, check out their Best/Worst page.)
ReviewMeta.com is an outstanding resource and we’ve learned that the “gaming” of reviews and ratings is extremely complex, continually changing and often suspicious. For example, ReviewMeta’s last report for the Friska Men’s Daily Probiotic was July 5, 2022 and consisted of 370 ratings and 43 reviews. Forty of these 43 reviews were found to be credible. Based on these reviews, this product was confirmed with an adjusted rating of 4.4. Yet, thirteen months later this product rating had changed from Amazon’s current 4.5 score to ReviewMeta’s 4.0 score, an 11% score drop. It took us 2 clicks and a bit of exploring to locate how many reviews, not ratings, Amazon currently had for this product. We saw it listed now as 131 reviews. In 13 months, this product had more than doubled in reviews and yet 29% of those reviews were suspicious.
Finally, it’s important to note that manipulation of reviews is not always obvious. Manipulation may come from competitors, retailers, friends/family of product owners/sellers, etc. On the bottom of the ReviewMeta website, they say… “Despite Amazon’s best efforts, Amazon sellers have found all kinds of ways to “game the system” to artificially inflate their products’ ratings (and also to artificially lower their competitors’ ratings). You can read about some of the most common techniques in our blog. The bottom line, though, is that a significant portion of the Amazon reviews and ratings you see are NOT from legitimate, typical shoppers like you. Many of the reviews are biased (from family/friends of the seller), incentivized (the seller gave the reviewer a huge discount or kick-back or even gave them the product for free) or otherwise unnatural.”
In the grand landscape of consumer reviews, we’ve learned that you can’t always predict what is legitimate and what is manipulated or how it may be manipulated. For example, here are three very different products. Can you guess which two out of the three have highly manipulated reviews, according to ReviewMeta?
- MEGATEK Portable Bluetooth Speaker https://reviewmeta.com/amazon/B08HHLKTZD
- Tênis New Balance sneakers https://reviewmeta.com/amazon-br/B09NF1SDWX
- Milk-bone Marosnacks Dog Treats https://reviewmeta.com/amazon/B003PMQMK2
There are other good resources to help you understand and better evaluate the shady world of consumer reviews. They include…
- How to Evaluate Online Reviews (FTC, October, 2022)
- How to Tell If Reviews Are Fake (Reputation.com)
- 8 Ways to Spot Fake and Useless Reviews Online (MakeUseOf.com, October, 2021)
- FakeSpot.com – Use AI to detect fake reviews and scams
Top Scams of the Week — Top scams of the week: Apple, Costco, Airbnb, and Booking.com – can you spot all these scams? Check out for more details and protect yourself with this 100% FREE, all-in-one tool.
Legal Extortion? Questionable Retail Site, a Bizarre Scam, and More… — We have often reported on extortion scams, often in the form of threats to expose very personal photos/videos of the victim online that simply don’t exist. However, last week one of our readers sent us a very different extortion threat he says he received 5 – 6 times via email. He said he forwarded 2 of these emails to the Fraud Department at Nationwide (as he described it) and they thought the email was “very suspicious.” We’ve not seen this threat before and appears to involve a legal firm in Germany. This firm sent an email, from their DOT-com address, to a man claiming that this man owed money for a dating service called “over60dating,” though it did not identify the website by exact domain name. (A quick search for ‘over60dating’ turned up 4 similarly named sites with different ending global top level domains: .org, .net, .biz and .co.uk.) What angered the man who contacted us was that he said he had never used that website or agreed to pay for online dating services. He felt that this was nothing less than extortion for services never rendered!
This man wasn’t alone in his assessment. In January, 2020, someone first posted this exact same threat on ScamWatcher.com. There have been 107 comments since then from all over the world, Australia to Bosnia, about many different dating sites and this particular email from the same German law firm. Overwhelmingly, most people who posted on this thread call this a scam. One man even said that he contacted the real law firm and the real lawyers at this law firm said that they didn’t know about these email threats. (However, he posts no information about whom he spoke to at the law firm or when.) A person on Reddit very recently posted a similar experience after he canceled a paid membership to another dating site. His threats also involved the same named law firm in Germany. Others have reported the exact same legal threat as a scam on the website TrustPilot. A year ago, yet another victim of this threat contacted the law advisory website in the UK called JustAnswer.co.uk. An expert on the site, identified as “ben.jones” said this… “it is a common occurrence for such sites to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for customers to cancel, tying them into a membership. This is an unfair contractual term and unlikely to pass the consumer obligations businesses have, meaning it is unlikely to be something they will successfully pursue in court.”
There are also some questions regarding the authenticity of the website that routinely appears in these emails, though this DOT-com has been around since 2004. The website that routinely appears in a Google search for the legal firm in Germany ends in the 2-letter “.de” country code, for Germany, and not DOT-com. The emails we found always use the DOT-com site. Our partners at Scamadviser.com call the DOT-com law firm website SUSPICIOUS. Hmmmm…. Curiouser and curiouser. (If you have received similar emails, please let us know, as well as the names of any dating websites you have used or are alleged to have used? Contact: email@example.com)
We are sometimes asked to evaluate retail and other commercial websites by our readers. Recently we were asked what our opinion was about the website allforsalenow[.]com. What is most interesting to us about this particular site is that the “jury is still out.” We cannot make any definitive judgment, and we’re not alone! It turns out that WebParanoid.com similarly concludes that this site has some suspicious flags, including how new the website is. (Registered in Iceland using Namecheap on April 13, less than 2 months ago.) Our partners at Scamadviser.com rate this site as 51/100. The ranking on Scam-Detector.com was only 58.5 out of 100, and nearly identical to the 60/100 rating on ScamDoc.com. It appears that many of us in this industry can’t make up our minds but no one speaks confidently about this retail site. So, our advice at this time? We wouldn’t use it.
Our friend Rob received the following email below on July 29 that was, quite frankly, the most bizarre method for scamming someone we’ve seen in a while! It was also hysterical. We think Mr. James Morrison (a.k.a. Hush Puppy) should try stand-up comedy, though it would be pretty deadpan because he is, by now, dead.
A couple of weeks ago, one of our readers sent us this bizarre text she received from 937-985-1961. We’ve been trying to figure out what it is and what it refers to. It made no sense to the woman and we can’t make heads or tails of it. The woman did not click any of the linked numbers and a Google search for that phone number only shows malicious websites in Russia. (Not uncommon when searching for phone numbers these days.) If you have any ideas what this is about or what it references, will you please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org ?
TIP: Here’s a tip that you may find interesting as you (and us) are bombarded with random, spam email from people all over the world. Did you know that if a Gmail user sends you a message AND that message appears in gray, just below a double-dash (–), it means that the sender entered that message into his/her Signature field, and not into the body of the message. Who does that? Scammers do! It makes it easier to automate the creation and sending of thousands of scam emails! Check out this sample from Jessica…
Please take our victim survey to help us better understand online threats targeting the public. One of the best ways for you to stay informed and recognize online threats is by helping to build a list of scammer websites, and check out the list from time to time. Visit the collaboration with EBRAND and GASA (the Global Anti-Scam Alliance) in this article titled How can consumers and institutions build a list of scamming websites.
Webroot, Geek Squad, and the Deluge Continues…. — This bogus email obviously didn’t come from Webroot, but came from a free iCloud account instead. No matter. You’ve been charged nearly $360 for something you never ordered! But where’s your name? Address? Or method of payment in this fake bill? That’s OK. You can call these scammers back at 888-878-1384 and take out your air-horn! Several people have reported this phone number as a scam on Scampulse.com.
This next smelly phish included something brand new that we’ve never seen before from Phishermen! The cybercriminal who sent it used a Google Group to do it! This is not a public Google Group that we can find when we ask Google. In any case, this is total BS and you know what to do!
Finally, the pain we are all experiencing continues to pour into our inboxes! This VERY common phishing threat continues to be reported to us in significant numbers from our readers, friends and family. These phishing scams, with an attached bogus pdf file, frequently come from free Gmail accounts. God, how we wish Google could do a better job at identifying and stopping this deluge!
Targeting Senior Citizens Again — We all know that the low-life cybercriminals who target us don’t care who they hurt, or how much. In fact, the easier they think the target may be, the more they hammer that target. One such group perceived as more vulnerable than most are Senior Citizens. Most countries in the world consider those age 65 or older as “senior citizens.” These next 3 malicious clickbait clearly targeted this group here in the US. The first email came from “healthcare” and provided no other information about the sender or sender’s domain. It was disguised to look like an email from HealthCare.com, which is a health care company founded in 2006 and headquartered in Miami, Florida. That’s important because the link in this clickbait points to a link-shortening service located in Moscow, Russia. You know, that other “sunshine state!” When we checked on that short link using Sucuri.net, it informed us that the Russians at the other end must have been in a fowl mood since they posted malware in anticipation of American visitors.
The second clickbait targeting seniors pretends to be from the very organization founded to support them, AARP.org! Except this lovely loony calls the organization “AAP” in the subject line! Instead of coming from aarp.org, this biting shark came from oolio[.]me. Once again, the links in the email misuse Amazon’s AWS services. Run away!
This last sample addresses that age-old question we all consider as we grow older… “Will my hearing finally tune out my spouses daily complaints or must I hear them as long as I live?” i.e. Should I get hearing aids? But hold! This email did not come from the company it claims to represent! (Gasp!) And all the links point to an 8-month old domain called vipgadget[.]shop and hosted on a server in Tangiers, Morocco! (A Second Gasp!!) (Cue dramatic music as we say….) Lunge for the delete key!
Your Amazon Account Will Be Suspended —You would expect a sushi restaurant to tell you that your Amazon account is about to be suspended, right? We figure this must be OK because Maru Sushi is also located in California, where Amazon is headquartered. We had heard there were “massive layoffs” recently at Amazon and perhaps they were compensating by asking a local sushi restaurant to handle their account holder issues since there are now fewer people to frequent the restaurant? Kinda makes sense, no? The links in this important email are “slinks” at LinkedIn. That means you’ll be forwarded and tracked to somewhere else on the Internet. Wow! Cost-cutting indeed! Your final destination is a little snip of a site called snip[.]ly where malware patiently awaits your misstep.
USPS Package —Oh no! Another package shipping scam text, this time posted by someone on Nextdoor.com. The criminals, disguised as the US Postal service, want you to come and play at posstamp[.]com. This domain was registered at the end of June through a service in Singapore. You know, just like usps.com!
Until next week, surf safely!
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