National Trading Standards urges consumers to beware of fake online reviews when Christmas shopping
UK shoppers have bought almost 80 million items* on the back of glowing online reviews – only to be bitterly disappointed when they arrive. New data**, released by National Trading Standards as the festive season gets underway, shows how our trust in online reviews is fuelling a surge in criminals using fake reviews to make a fast buck by selling poor quality goods and services.
For 56% of online shoppers, online reviews are a deciding factor when purchasing a product or service and 67% of those using online reviews are more likely to buy a product or service if it has a five-star rating – highlighting the faith many place in these reviews.
Fake online reviews are estimated to potentially influence £23 billion of UK consumer spending every year***. However, the research showed that many people are failing to take simple steps to avoid being duped. Just one in five check the timing and spacing of reviews online – if lots of similar reviews have been posted in a short space of time, they may have been submitted by the same person or group – whilst only 18% look at reviewers’ activity history, which can also provide clues that something is not right. A huge 87% of shoppers using online reviews do not use browser plug-ins such as Fakespot and ReviewMeta to detect bogus reviews.
Cameras, clothing, coffee machines – even cat toys; these are just some of the ‘rave reviewed’ products people regret buying. The National Trading Standards eCrime Team wants to help consumers understand how they can protect themselves when Christmas shopping online.
How to avoid falling for fake online reviews:
- Timing and spacing – check for multiple similar reviews that have been uploaded within a few minutes or hours.
- Reviewer’s history – check out the reviewer’s activity – if an account has been activated recently or has only reviewed a narrow range of products/services, this could indicate suspicious activity.
- Vague language – legitimate reviews will often be personal and specific to the individual’s experience of using the item, whilst a fake is more likely to be vague, using generic words and phrases such as ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘buy this product’.
- Can you contact them? – if a reviewer is happy to be contacted with questions, and is responsive, it’s a good sign they’re legitimate
- Use a browser plug-in – plug-ins use artificial intelligence to analyse reviews, identify suspicious activity and suggest better alternatives to consumers
- Look beyond the star rating – whilst a star rating of 4.5 or 5 can be a good indicator of quality, don’t go by this alone – look at the reviews too and check them against these tips.
Mike Andrews, National Co-ordinator, National Trading Standards eCrime Team, said:
“Bogus online reviews damage legitimate businesses and prop up those seeking to make a fast buck by selling shoddy goods. Many of those we surveyed said they felt deceived, conned and tricked after unwittingly falling for the fakes, often only realising the reviews were suspicious when it was too late. We urge those doing their Christmas shopping online to look out for fake online reviews and avoid being left out of pocket by using our tips.
“If you suspect you have lost money after being duped by a fake online review, you should report it to Action Fraud or seek advice from a Citizens Advice Scams Action adviser.”
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently leading an investigation into fake reviews, which includes a formal probe into Amazon and Google over concerns that they have not been doing enough to combat fake reviews on their sites. This latest work builds on action taken by the CMA last year over the trading of fake reviews, which resulted in Facebook, Instagram and eBay removing groups and banning individuals for buying and selling fake reviews on their sites.
Consumer Minister Paul Scully said:
“We’re working to build back better and fairer from the pandemic, which means businesses knowing they’re competing on a level playing field and shoppers knowing they’re getting a fair deal.
“Last summer we published our plans to make fake reviews illegal, and I encourage shoppers this Christmas to follow National Trading Standards’ advice for staying savvy online.”
George Lusty, Senior Director of Consumer Protection at the CMA, said:
“While customer feedback can be a great way to decide what to buy, our worry is that millions of shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending money based on those recommendations. Equally, it’s not fair if law-abiding businesses lose out to those using dodgy practices.
“We know this is a big issue for shoppers, which is why we’re investigating concerns that Amazon and Google have not been doing enough to tackle fake reviews. But if you’re worried about being duped online this festive season, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.”
If you or someone you know has been a targeted by a scam you should report it to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk/ or by calling 0300 123 2040. For advice and information on how to check if something might be an online scam, call the Citizens Advice Scams Action service on 0808 250 5050. People can also protect their neighbours by joining Friends Against Scams, which provides free online training to empower people to take a stand against scams.
Scottish consumers can report suspected scams and suspicious activity using the Quick Reporting Tool at www.scamwatch.scot.
Alternatively, specialist consumer advisers are available on 0808 164 6000 (Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm), or by visiting www.consumeradvice.scot. consumeradvice.scot is operated by the charity Advice Direct Scotland.
If you have been the victim of fraud in Scotland, you can report it to Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
Notes to Editors
Notes to Editors
*52,890,000 UK adults [United Kingdom Population 2021 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs) (worldpopulationreview.com)] bought an average of 2.3 items each (based on online reviews, only to be disappointed) = 79,863,108 items.
**Opinium survey: Nationally representative sample of 2,003 UK adults who shop online, November 2021
***Online reviews and endorsements - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) – paragraph 1.3
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues.