Los Angeles

Spot Fake Online Reviews

Whether it’s to find a new restaurant or locate a dependable dry cleaner, tens of millions of us are turning to Yelp and other online review websites to decide where to spend our money.

But how can you tell if the raves you’re reading are the real deal?

According to statistics provided by Yelp, nearly 3,000 new reviews are posted every hour, making it a go-to resource for consumers.

“I use it to check out what people are saying about restaurants and stuff,” said Los Angeles resident Charlie McKeague. “I’m new to the area, so it’s a good way for me to try to find the hot spots.”

But not every consumer trusts the online testimonials.

”I feel like there’s people that get paid to write comments on Yelp for certain pages,” said Pram Brar, also an L.A. resident.

It definitely happens: Yelp tells the NBC4 I-Team that as many as 25 percent of the reviews submitted to the site are considered “suspicious” or “not recommended.” In the last three years, the company has identified more than 500 businesses allegedly trying to manipulate the system, a practice known as “astroturfing.”

“A lot of reviews coming from the same IP address can be an indication that the business owners themselves are adjusting their reputation or ratings,” said Yelp Vice President of Corporate Communications Shannon Eis. “Or they can be incentivizing their customers to do so.”

Yelp attempted to discourage astroturfing this week by placing “alerts” on dozens of businesses that have recently received suspicious reviews. The website claims it’s devoting millions of dollars to the ongoing crackdown.

“We have teams, and most importantly, an automated system which is part of our recommendation software that’s screening for this in highly intelligent ways every day,” said Eis. “Even more important is our user community, who themselves can flag reviews, and say ‘Hey this feels a little suspicious, can you have your team take a look at it?’”

Tips to identify fake reviews:

  • Beware of extreme “pro” or “con” opinions: Real reviews are typically more moderate in praise or criticism.
  • Check the timing: It can be a red flag if a large number of positive or negative reviews appear in a short time frame.
  • Look for at least two dozen reviews before deciding whether you’ll become a customer: You want to make sure there are plenty of opinions to determine that there’s a reliable trend happening.
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