Online reviews: How can you spot a fake?

Jeff Hancock, our expert in Faking It, is a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. His work focuses on language, deception and technology. He has researched online reviews and other places people interact online, like dating sites.

Here are his tips for avoiding fake reviews:

Volume is good. Go to sites that have a lot of reviews; it’s harder to fake reviews in great number.

Know what kind of site you’re on. Some review sites are unverified, so anyone can post. Others are verified: You need to have bought something in order to review it. “It’s not foolproof, but they’re more difficult to fake,” Hancock. Verified sites may have fewer reviews, but Hancock says they can be more trustworthy.

Look for language cues. “If you see a lot of language about who they were with or what they were doing, it can be an indicator that a review is fake,” says Hancock. Another cue: look for spatial language that seems like the reviewer was physically in the space. “Prepositions -- like on, near, beside, big, small -- these are all indicators that they’ve been in the place. If they’re vague about it, they may never have been there in the first place.”

Try the tool that Hancock and his team developed, Review Skeptic, which lets you cut and paste a review to see if it’s likely real or fake. (It works best on hotel and restaurant reviews.) It was developed for academic use, so it’s for information purposes only.

Read more about Hancock’s research here.