In the age of social media and online review sites, managing your business’s online reputation has become even more challenging. A negative review can quickly spread like wildfire across all platforms, but a positive review isn’t necessarily guaranteed to be seen by potential customers. 

Statistics suggest that only about 40% of consumers are likely to see your company’s reviews on popular review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. Given these challenges, the question is: Are online reviews trustworthy? How can you spot red flags that alert you to potential false or biased reviews? 

Let’s take a look at some common signs that an online review may not be trustworthy and how you can spot the red flags when reading them in the future.

Increasing Reliance On Online Reviews

The volume of online reviews is on the rise. Surveys have found that, in some instances, up to 90% of consumers are likely to use online reviews as part of their purchasing decision. 

Yet, as more and more consumers rely on these reviews, businesses are being challenged to keep up with the sheer volume of reviews being posted. This puts you at an even greater risk of being falsely accused of unethical review practices. 

And even if you’ve done nothing wrong, false reviews can quickly tarnish your brand reputation. As such, it’s more important than ever to know how to spot red flags when reading reviews.

The Emergence Of Fake Reviews

It’s no surprise that some unscrupulous businesses have begun writing fake online reviews for their own company. A 2016 study estimated that as many as 20% of online reviews are fake. In certain industries, the percentage of fake reviews is even higher. 

For example, a study of health care providers found that almost half of the online reviews were likely false. While the federal government has attempted to crack down on fake reviews, the fact remains that these false reviews are still prevalent. 

Knowing how to spot the red flags when reading reviews will help you identify fraudulent reviews and make more informed purchasing decisions.

Red Flags

To identify fake reviews, you first need to know what a real review looks like. This will allow you to distinguish the red flags in a false review. 

You can easily identify the red flags by comparing these reviews to a sample of authentic reviews. The following are some of the most common signs that an online review may be fake:

Unverified Profile

Non-Existent Profile

Fake reviewers often use fake or burner social media accounts to post their reviews. They may also try to create fake accounts using photos of real people. If the reviewer’s page is sparse or non-existent, it’s likely a fake account.

Reviewer’s Profile Image Doesn’t Match The Image In The Review

If the reviewer’s image doesn’t match the image they’ve used in the review, it’s likely a fake review. Similarly, if the image in the review doesn’t match the image on the reviewer’s page, it’s another sign that the review is fake.

Name Doesn’t Match Their Profile

If the reviewer uses a different name than what’s on their profile, it’s another sign that the review is fake.

Critical Of Every Aspect Of The Business

If the review is critical of every aspect of the business, it’s likely fake. Real reviews are generally specific in their criticisms.

Bias in language

Reviews are supposed to be an authentic consumer account of your experience, right? Well, not according to a 2017 study, which found that almost half of online reviews are likely biased. While you can’t rely on every review you come across to be 100% accurate, you can identify biased reviews by paying close attention to the language and style of the reviewer. 

Bias in the language is often very subtle and can be easily missed if you’re not looking for it. Bias can be indicated by phrases such as “in my opinion,” “for my needs,” or “in my situation.” These phrases are meant to soften the reviewer’s opinion and to make it clear that the review is subjective. Bias can often be found in negative reviews, as well. 

If a reviewer makes a point of telling you that they don’t travel often, it’s likely an indication that their review is biased.

Excessive Usage Of Adverbs

Adverbs are descriptive words that are often used to soften the tone of a statement. They’re commonly used in writing and are often used in fake reviews. With that said, it’s important to note that adverbs are used in many authentic reviews as well. 

If a review is loaded with adverbs, the review is likely fake. Authentic reviews tend to stick to facts rather than opinions. Words like “totally,” “absolutely,” or “absolutely fantastic” are used to soften the phrase that comes after them. These words are commonly used in fake reviews.

Shifting Behavioral Patterns

Fake reviewers often try to sound like real customers. As such, they may attempt to mimic the style of other customers’ reviews.

  • The reviewer uses phrases similar to the ones in the other reviews. If you notice the reviewer using phrases similar to what other reviewers have written, you may be reading a fake review.
  • The reviewer uses the word “me” instead of “I”.  The word “me” is used when someone is describing themselves. Reviewers often try to make themselves sound like an average consumer, so they’ll use the word “me” in place of “I.”
  • The reviewer uses words like “just,” “only,” or “just bought” – These words are used to soften a review. When someone genuinely loves or hates a product, they’re not likely to soften their review.

Too Many 5-Star Reviews From One Reviewer

It’s not uncommon for companies to receive a 5-star review, especially if the company offers high-quality products or services. However, if one person posts several 5-star reviews for the same company, it may be a red flag. 

Many online review sites will flag multiple 5-star reviews from one reviewer as an indication that the reviews may be false. The site may then ask the reviewer to verify that they have indeed used the service or purchased the product. If they fail to do so, the reviews may be deleted.

3 Signs of Legitimate Reviews

If you’re still reading, you’ve made it through the red flags and are still looking for trustworthy reviews. Now it’s time to decipher legitimate reviews from fakes. If you read a review that:

1. Language Is Objective

Reviewers who write objectively about their experience at your business are more likely to be genuine.

2. Language Isn’t Overly Emotional. 

If a reviewer’s language is overly emotional, it may be difficult to determine what happened or whether the reviewer’s feelings may have influenced the review.

3. Words Match The Expectations Of The Situation

If you know what to expect at your business based on your own experience, you can use this as a gauge to determine if an online review is legitimate.


Online reviews are a powerful tool for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions, but they can only be useful if they are genuine. To spot false online reviews, you need to look for certain red flags that indicate a review may not be trustworthy. 

While there is no way to know for sure if a review is false, by being aware of the common red flags, you can approach each review with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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