Fake reviews short circuits consumers' pick of where to do business

Dangers of fake reviews and how to spot one

TAMPA, Fla. - We found fake reviews for sale by the thousands. Experts say it short circuits everything people depend on a review to do.

Take Bullock R. According to his profile, Bullock used a collection agency in the UK, hired a mover in London, bought carpet in New York and got his computer serviced at Computer Doctors in South Tampa at about the same time.

But we found his profile picture is actually the mug shot of convicted sex offender Michael Boyles who's been in prison since 2015. 

Mike Blumenthal, the Chief Review Officer for GetFiveStars.com, says he discovered 650 reviewers so far that have posted upwards of 40,000 fake reviews involving 5,000 to 6,000 businesses. He’s blogged about the fake review plague while hounding Google to do more to stop it.

Blumenthal is among those who says Google has not invested enough energy to keep up with the abuses in the market place.

But a Google spokesperson told us:

"We're always working on new and better ways to fight these issues and keep our information up to date. We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud..."

Fake reviews trick unsuspecting consumers who trust online reviews are written by real people. We found reviewer Sara Maria is not real. She used a dishwasher repair shop in San Diego, ordered pasta in Spain and got her air conditioner repaired here in Tampa all 5 months ago. But her profile picture belongs to famous Indian actress Soumya. Maria’s review was one of several fakes we found for Air National Air Conditioning and Heating.  

So how do you spot a fake review? Check out profiles, look for ones that are reviewing in multiple places around the same time. Are all the reviews extreme, all five or one stars? That is another red flag. Don’t rely on one review site, use several to get a better picture of the business.

Fake reviews are more likely to tout service industries like pest control and medical services than often reviewed businesses like restaurants and hotels.

National Air Conditioning and Heating said no manager was available to comment on the fake reviews we found on their site. And the owner of Tampa Computer Doctors says he was unaware of any fake reviews until our call. As for Google they say they are removing posts that violate their policy.

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