Can you spot a fake Amazon review?

What’s a fake review? Exactly what it sounds like: a review posted by a company employee or anyone else with a vested interest in selling more product.

Here’s a great example: You’re in the market for a GoPro-style action camera. A real GoPro will run you $200 to $400 in the US, but there are countless knock-offs priced as low as $40 to $50. But they can’t possibly be as good, right? Well, they look like GoPros. They come with lots of accessories. And here’s the kicker: high marks from dozens or even hundreds of reviewers. Sold!

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According to Fakespot, the dashcam gets an “F.” But, wait, it might be perfectly decent product. It’s just that a big chunk of the reviews failed to make the grade. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

The problem is, dozens or even hundreds of those online reviews might be fake — or at least questionable. It’s hard to know for certain, but there are telltale signs. More on that below.

But shouldn’t Amazon be doing something about this? About a year ago, the company promised to start cracking down on incentivized reviews, meaning those posted in exchange for free or discounted products. Sure enough, I’ve seen fewer reviews with that disclaimer embedded — but that doesn’t mean there’s been a decrease in illegitimate reviews.

So let’s talk about the tools you can use to spot fake reviews and — just as important — how to interpret the results.

X marks the Fakespot

First up is Fakespot, a free site that analyzes Amazon product reviews to help you separate the wheat from the, well, fake. All you do is copy and paste the link to the product page, then click Analyze.

The service also offers browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari, all of which make it even simpler: Just click the Fakespot icon in your toolbar for instant analysis. It’s also available for Android and iOS so you can use use Fakespot on the go.

Fakespot analyzes both reviews and reviewers, looking for questionable spelling and grammar, the number of reviews, purchasing patterns, mismatched dates and other telltale signs of suspicious review activity. For example, a reviewer who’s new to Amazon, has posted only one review and uses lots of words like “great” and “amazing”? That review is almost certainly going to be marked “unreliable.”

After the analysis is finished, Fakespot provides a letter grade based on the total number of reviews and how many were unreliable. And that’s where things can get a little confusing: If you’re looking at one of the aforementioned cameras and it gets an “F” because, say, 57 percent of the reviews were marked as unreliable, you might be a lot less inclined to purchase it.

Ah, but does that mean the product itself is bad? Not necessarily. More on that in the next section.

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ReviewMeta gives the same product — or at least the same reviews for the same product — a passing grade. Now I’m really confused! Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Next, there’s ReviewMeta, which takes a very different approach, according to developer Tommy Noonan. Although it’s functionally similar — paste in an Amazon link or use one of the browser extensions — ReviewMeta merely strips out or reduces the weight of certain reviews, then leaves you with an adjusted rating.

In other words, instead of the letter grade, which can be misleading, ReviewMeta shows you what the Amazon average rating would be if the questionable reviews didn’t exist.

Read more at CNET

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