Consumers Beware: Companies Paying for Reviews - The S.E. Farris Law Firm
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Consumers Beware: Companies Paying for Reviews

Reviews are a reliable and trusted source that can help you determine whether you make a purchase or not. But are they as truthful as they appear? Beware of fake reviews! 

Reviews are one of the best ways to determine whether a company or business is worth your time and/or money. People tend to believe other consumers over a business or brand because the consumer does not benefit from leaving a good review about their positive experience. Or do they? Nowadays, you may be surprised to find out that the 5-star company you’re looking at isn’t as shiny and prestigious as it appears to be.

Paying for Reviews
Review hijacking is a very real part of e-commerce. Review hijacking is when a business, brand, or review for hire commercial entity pay others to leave a positive review of a product or service despite 1) the reviewer never using their product or service, or 2) the reviewer having a negative experience with the product or service and claiming the opposite.

Reviews have always been a reliable source of credibility but in today’s climate of social media and advanced technology, data shows that people are paying for good reviews to help boost their sales and/or reputation.

Even verified reviews, which were made to help combat review hijacking, aren’t as trustworthy as they should be. This Buzzfeed article details how one woman has made a side-hustle and a profit from leaving fake and fraudulent reviews on Amazon. Her purchases are completely real, but the reviews are fake. She admitted to products being cheap and not worth the 5-star ratings she gave them, but the companies she reviews for pays her for the review by reimbursing her purchase. She gets to keep the product for free, essentially, and she hasn’t been caught by the e-commerce corporation for violating their policy due to strategic planning on the company’s behalf.

How to Spot a Fake Review
Fortunately, fake reviews can be easy to spot. If a product or business has a sudden influx of positive reviews within a short time frame, that may be a sign the business paid for those reviews. Another way to determine the authenticity of a review is by researching the reviewer themselves. If you believe a review is fake, go to the reviewer’s profile. If they have many positive reviews, especially in a short time frame, it is an indicator that they are leaving fake reviews. For example, one Amazon reviewer wrote about 676 books over the span of 6 months and all of them were similar — generic reviews with no details, similar headlines, and all 4 or 5-star ratings.

Is it legal?
While paying for reviews is unethical, it is not necessarily illegal. When there is an exchange of money for a review, it is frowned upon by the majority of consumers and consumer watchdog groups.

Under some circumstances, it is illegal to pay for reviews. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), paying for reviews is “using unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce”, and you may be held accountable. Paying for reviews is illegal because these reviews often have baseless or false information (i.e. the reviewer never used your product or service) and they hide important information (i.e. disclosure of the payment for the review). Paying for reviews can put you in a vulnerable position and you may be sued for soliciting and advertising false information about your company.

Lawyers in Missouri are specifically forbidden from paying for reviews. We have seen law firms skirt the requirements by having a company write reviews and calling them service “marketing.” All of the reviews you see for The S.E. Farris Law Firm were written by actual clients.

At the end of your case, we hope we have given you the level of service that justifies a good review. One of the guiding principles of our firm is that How we take care of clients is more important than how much money we get for them, because there is never enough money after an injury. By holding ourselves to the highest level of professionalism and client service, we have received more favorable reviews than most law firms of our size. Our goal is to continue that trend!