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Can a vacuum cleaner really change your life?

CROMWELL – The Connecticut Better Business Bureau recommends consumers be careful about potentially fraudulent online reviews before making online purchasing decisions.

They said that before the advent of the personal computer, most people would find out about the pros and cons of merchandise and services through word of mouth, usually from a trusted friend, relative or store employee. Most consumers still make their purchasing decisions based on other consumers’ assessments, typically posted on the same page as a product’s description, but can online reviews be trusted?

The answer depends on who writes the review. Unfortunately, technology has helped unethical businesses obtain stellar customer reviews and trash competitors with falsified, sometimes excessively negative reviews. Consumers are often unaware they may sometimes be relying on paid, anonymous reviewers who probably never used the merchandise they are praising. In some cases, the same review may use identical wording for different products on various sellers’ websites.

You usually find phony reviews on websites that review restaurants, sell vacation packages, household appliances, smart device apps, electronics and virtually any product sold online. Fake reviews allow unscrupulous sellers to extol the virtues of their products online and give their own products five-star ratings.

At the very least, the practice is misleading and unethical.

Reputable websites prohibit the posting of reviews by anyone who receives compensation for doing so, whether it is by company employees or independent writers who are paid for each review they compose. Supersized online retailers such as Amazon, which is well aware of the issue, acknowledges the problem of paid reviews is getting worse and has made getting rid of them a major goal for 2017.

The Connecticut BBB offers a number of ways to spot phony product reviews, and find legitimate consumer feedback:

  • Check for “marketing speak” – Does the review sound like something you or your friends would write, or by someone selling a product?
  • Too many details – It’s similar to market-speak. If the merchandise is a “Model XG52 Widget,” and the product’s full name and model are repeated several times in the review, it is a sign that it was likely planted by a paid writer.
  • Silly, overblown claims about the product – If you are considering purchasing a vacuum cleaner and reviews that say things like “This product changed my life,” does it make sense to you?
  • Unreasonably long reviews – We all can be passionate when talk about our experiences with a product or company, but would you write a 5-paragraph review that not only tells you about a product but also describes how to use it, or contains the names of a half-dozen employees who served you at a restaurant?
  • Negative reviews that are short on details – You may see only a couple of words that say things like “This product stinks,” without telling you why.
  • Check the reviewers’ username – This is an interesting clue: If a reviewer’s screen name has 3 or more numerals typically at the end of their screen name, it is usually a sign of an automated review-writing program.
  • The truth about consumers’ experience usually falls somewhere between a one star and a 5 star rating. Use an online search engine to look for the product and see what other consumers have written about it.