ACCC investigates fake online reviews

What you see is not always what you get when it comes to online review sites.

Spot the fake review

User reviews can be helpful when you're shopping online, but it's always worth reading them with a healthy dose of scepticism. The ACCC has announced an investigation into the review policies of sharing economy platforms – part of an international initiative targeting fake reviews and endorsements.

Ghost writers

The boom in the share economy has resulted in consumers flocking to online review sites before buying, trying or sharing certain goods or services. Unfortunately this has also led to companies writing bogus reviews in a bid to promote their business.

Section 29 of Australian Consumer Law prohibits businesses from making or inducing false or misleading representations through testimonials or reviews.

"Businesses that pay people to write reviews who have never used their products or services are clearly misleading consumers," says CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey.

"It's also worth remembering that if a company pays someone to write an inflated review, even if the person has actually used the goods or service, this may also be considering misleading. The same considerations apply to editing or deleting less favourable ratings."

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Around 15% of all online reviews are fake

Last year analysis by CHOICE found reviews, likes and followers can be purchased for just a few dollars. Twenty long-form reviews will set you back just $31 while 5000 Instagram followers can be tacked on for just $75.

"With many consumers relying on user reviews to help inform their purchasing decisions, it's concerning to think that around 15% of all online reviews are fake," says Mr Godfrey.

"Whether you're reading reviews on a hotel booking site, rating a ride-sharing service or following a celebrity on Instagram, you need to be able to trust what you're reading."

What to look for

  • Check reviews about the same business from different sources.
  • Keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of fakery such as a sudden increase in positive or negative reviews over a short time frame that are out of sync with earlier reviews.
  • Beware of reviews that are allegedly from different people but are suspiciously similar in tone and style.