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Consider the source — that’s a valuable little axiom in this wired world.

And if you don’t know the source — if you can’t even establish something as simple as that — stop and think about the credibility of the material.

This past week, the New York attorney-general announced legal action, and $350,000 in penalties, against 19 companies that were generating or used faked glowing “consumer” reviews of their products.

Customer reviews are a growing source of information for consumers, and a growing business, too, for ventures that, for a fee, will generate fake stories of over-the-top services and shopping experiences.

You can see why there would be a market for the fake reviews: plenty of customers depend on them. Right now, consumer research by Nielsen found that 70 per cent of consumers trust online customer reviews, a number second only to a direct recommendation from a family member or friend.

What’s interesting about that level of trust is that, by next year, other researchers estimate that fully 10 to 15 per cent of such reviews on social media sites will be complete fakes.

Not only will they be fakes, but they will be extremely difficult to identify as such. There is no broadcast standards group reviewing online claims, and finding the source of individual reviews can be like a veritable trip down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland.”

So, how do you make a judgment? Well, with a grain of salt. Customers have to bring the same sort of skepticism to messaging from online “friends” that they do to anything else: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. And customers have to be aware that there is a burgeoning market in faked and ghosted support.

As we have seen in this province, such faking extends even to the online support of provincial politicians.

(Guaranteed, someone will post a comment pointing out that this editorial is unsigned: that is a legitimate point. But that is this newspaper’s policy, simply because editorials represent the position of the newspaper, not the individual writer. Finding out the identities of those writers is hardly challenging: editorials are usually written by either commentary editor Peter Jackson or editorial page editor Russell Wangersky — in this case, Wangersky. You can simply email letters@thetelegram.com to ask who might have written a specific editorial. One thing’s for certain, though, no one paid a fee to have particular opinions presented in this space as something they are not.)

The bottom line?

If someone tells you they’ve found the perfect product, keep in mind that it just might be a company preening its own feathers, using hyping services that wire in positive reviews from as far away as the Phillipines and Pakistan.

Even online — especially online — buyer beware.

Geographic location: New York, Wonderland

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Recent comments

  • cwprla
    September 30, 2013 - 11:37

    Excellent article. I agree, you should learn from other customers, but in this day and age, there are too many fake reviews out there as we are seeing with these legal cases. Portals like Yelp! and TripAdvisor, Trustpilot, Google reviews,whatnot are unreliable and spammed with fake data and reviews and so it's hard to believe what is what and REAL. That is why it is important to learn from those companies who enlist independent third-party review providers like eKomi, BazaarVoice, etc. in order to read verified info. from TRUE critics.

  • cwprla
    September 30, 2013 - 10:42

    Excellent article. I agree, you should learn from other customers, but in this day and age, there are too many fake reviews out there as we are seeing with these legal cases. Portals like Yelp! and TripAdvisor, Trustpilot, Google reviews,whatnot are unreliable and spammed with fake data and reviews and so it's hard to believe what is what and REAL. That is why it is important to learn from those companies who enlist independent third-party review providers like eKomi, BazaarVoice, etc. in order to read verified info. from TRUE critics.