How many online reviews are fraudulent? No one knows for sure,
and the estimates are all over the map. A Gartner study in
September predicted that the amount of fake reviews would grow to
10% to 15% by 2014 and that "at least two" Fortune 500 brands would
face litigation from the Federal Trade Commission for the practice
in coming years. "We think more reviews are going to be faked
because of the high trust in them, and not everyone is going to be
caught," said Gartner analyst Jenny Sussin.
That prediction includes fake "likes" and followers in social
media. Bazaarvoice, which powers reviews for Macy's and
1-800-Pet-Meds and many others, says its fraud rate was less than
1% over the past four months, in part because 85% of its comments
are driven by a post-transaction email, meaning the commenter
really did buy something or stay in a hotel room.
One thing is certain: In a world increasingly filled with online
commentary, likes and reviews, law enforcement is overmatched. The
law in the U.S. is that if you've been paid to endorse a product or
service, you must disclose it. The FTC fined Legacy Learning
Systems $250,000 in 2011 for paying fake reviewers based on sales
Given the stakes, a cottage industry has sprung up to help
businesses keep track of their reviews and identify fraud when it
happens. Reputation management companies like Reputation.com have
added tools for comment monitoring, and a company more specifically
aimed at detecting review fraud, Review Trackers, launched earlier
Review Trackers is working on its own technology, but founder
Chris Campbell said it will never replace the humans who now read
every single new review mentioning its clients. "It is difficult to
identify a fake review without the human element," he said.
When it comes to detecting fakes, humans and algorithms make
mistakes. And while all the big review sites have a process that
allows businesses to flag reviews they believe to be fraudulent,
paid for, maliciously placed by a competitor or unfair, they
generally don't have one to challenge legitimate reviews that are
mistakenly flagged as comment spam.
After Google removed hundreds of rave reviews for three car
dealerships in Wichita, Kan.; Boulder, Colo.; and Canton, Mass.;
from its Google+ Local pages, the dealers filed complaints with the
FTC. "Google believes it can do whatever it wants and has no
accountability," dealer Scott Pittman at Suzuki of Wichita told
"We acknowledge in trying to strike balance in removing spam
reviews and keeping legitimate reviews, there will be some error,"
a Google spokeswoman said. "Illegitimate reviews are a problem
across the internet; it's something we are constantly working on to
better detect and handle the abuse."