• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Are user reviews trustworthy?

October 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Almost 80 percent of online shoppers check user reviews, according to a just-released consumer reports' poll. You may think user reviews are posted by your typical shopper. But consumer specialist Ric Romero cautions, you can't believe everything you read. It's not unusual for those rave user reviews to be written by people who work at the company or who are paid to write the recommendations.

No matter what she buys, Karen Schmidt first looks online to see what other people are recommending.

"I bought this pot rack online that I checked the reviews," said Schmidt. "I bought my daughter's cell phone online that I checked out the reviews."

But consumer reports Shopsmart cautions- that not all user reviews are objective and independent.

Eyewitness News teamed up with Shopsmart magazine to show you how to spot a review that isn't on the up and up.

"Believe it or not, many of these reviews are written by employees who are posing as satisfied customers," said Lisa Lee Freeman from Shopsmart magazine.

Lifestyle Lift, a chain of cosmetic surgery clinics, was fined $300,000 because its employees published positive reviews and engaged in deceptive commercial practices.

"Bloggers are another source of suspect reviews," said Freeman. "They may be getting freebies or payments from companies to say positive things about their products."

Take the website www.izea.com. A video on their site explains that, "Compensation can come in the form of cash, gift cards, points, products, or services."

The site brags that it has gotten a million product mentions online with paid bloggers.

What are some warning signs of suspect reviews?

  • When there's no mention of personal experience with the item.
  • When the reviewer only lists the pros and not the cons.
Also be on the lookout for sponsorship disclosures. But they can be hard to spot, like one from Coldstone Creamery.

Another tip: don't stop at the first two or three reviews.

At least one site like www.yelp.com says it moves a positive review to the top spot if the business pays for it.

The bottom line is to be skeptical. Before you buy, check lots of sources.

The federal trade commission says it's concerned about what amounts to paid advertising masquerading as user reviews and blogs online.

The FTC is expected to release new guidelines soon, requiring paid reviews to be clearly identified.