As the holiday season arrives, online shopping is crucial in getting just the right gift for friends and family. Customer reviews can make or break a product and knowing what products are worth your while can lead to a more successful shopping experience. The typical online customer searches for an item and then browses through search results, hoping to find the best quality product based on the reported experiences of other customers. This process creates a cycle: the larger number of positive reviews a product gets, the higher up it moves on the list of search results. Customers like to see that a real person, just like them, has found the product to be useful and beneficial. But what happens when some of those reviews just aren’t all they seem to be?

Many online customers are unaware that the 1- through 5-star reviews that they put their faith in may be paid for and faked. Shadow marketplaces exist, through channels such as private Facebook groups and subreddits, where reviews for Amazon products can be bought and paid for.

In an NPR report about online reviews, the author writes about a teenager named Travis who experienced this form of misdirection in two very different ways. Travis experienced the negative effects of these fake reviews when buying a lock for a hunting rifle. After ordering a lock with nothing but five-star reviews and comments about how it locked perfectly, he received a flimsy piece of plastic with a dysfunctional combination system. Travis himself was then approached by an online company and now writes Amazon reviews in exchange for payment. He approaches other individuals online and recruits them to join him and do the same. Through this experience, he realizes that many of the reviews he read for the lock he bought were probably written by people who never even used the product.

While the vice president of Amazon community shopping, Sharon Chiarella, claims that less than 1% of product reviews are inauthentic, other studies of online reviews have suggested otherwise. Outside auditors such as Fakespot and ReviewMeta have found that more than half of the reviews for certain popular products are questionable. With this, NPR spoke with several people in addition to Travis who reported that, indeed, they do write Amazon reviews for pay.

While Amazon has developed technology and algorithms to help try to decrease the number of fake reviews, the truth is that as this technology develops, so do the minds of those engaging in the hacking business. These review hackers are highly intelligent and skilled forces who are able to find a way around a lot of the technology that has been implemented to combat this issue.

Here are some ways you can filter out the faked review:


  • Be aware that not everything in a review can be trusted.
  • Reviews provide helpful insight on the quality of the product, but they should not be the last word when you shop online.
  • Focus on the 2- to 4-star reviews. Those reviews tend to have more detail and are more likely to discuss the pros and cons of the product more fully.
  • You can also supplement your decision-making with tools like FakeSpot and ReviewMeta. These tools will help you determine the likelihood that a review is fake. While these tools can’t perfectly identify whether a review is fake, they can give you additional considerations to help you make your decision.