As the leading online retailer in the US, Amazon sells just about everything. (Like the logo says, from A to Z.) Whether you are shopping online for a cheap portable charger, eco-friendly cleaning supplies, or headphones for your kids, Amazon is likely your first stop. And when it’s time to choose between similar-looking products, most folks rely on user reviews.

The trouble is that many Amazon reviews are fake. Unscrupulous or desperate sellers pay for glowing reviews, and some offer gift cards or free products in exchange for five-star ratings. Occasionally, sellers will even solicit false negative reviews on competing products. It’s tough to identify what’s real with certainty, but you can reduce the risk of being conned when you know the warning signs. We’ve compiled some tips that can help.

Updated June 2023: We’ve added relevant links, information on Amazon’s Vine program, and a section on the use of artificial intelligence.

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Fake Amazon Reviews

If you are shopping on Amazon, there is a good chance you’ll see some fake reviews. A recent UK government report suggested that between 11 and 15 percent of consumer electronics reviews on e-commerce platforms are fake. 

The majority are positive, extolling the virtues of a product in suspiciously glowing terms. Short five-star reviews are likely intended to game the system by boosting a product’s ranking and visibility. But there are also more subtle attempts to persuade you to buy, where paid reviewers will go into some detail, maybe share photos, and even include a con alongside many pros. They might score a product four out of five stars, for example, which can be very convincing.

Some sellers engage in paid negative reviews designed to criticize competing products. They are typically one-star reviews that focus on cons and will often mention another product that compares favorably to try to steer you toward it.

It’s worth noting that Amazon is not the only ecommerce website with a fake review problem. Walmart, Target, and many others have similar issues (the Federal Trade Commission put more than 700 businesses on notice in 2021 and is considering a rule that would trigger stiff civil penalties for violators). Most of the tips we discuss here will serve you in general, not just on Amazon.

How Amazon Sellers Get Fake Reviews

Sellers want to increase their sales, and reviews can do that. The reviewers want to earn cash or free products. That’s why the underground market for fake reviews is thriving. There are overseas companies selling blocks of positive reviews, social media groups that organize teams of reviewers, and companies that offer all kinds of incentives to persuade genuine buyers to leave a favorable review. Sellers also provide refunds or other rewards to convince buyers to remove or edit negative reviews. Reply All’s The Magic Store episode covers some common scenarios and is a fun listen on the topic.

How to Avoid Fake Reviews

We are not talking about big-ticket items and major brands, where you can easily find legitimate reviews in the media (though counterfeits are a whole other problem). If we may be so bold, you can find genuine product recommendations and honest reviews here at WIRED.

However, most fake reviews target affordable items from unknown brands that only have reviews on Amazon. While it may not be possible to avoid false reviews, you can reduce their impact on your purchasing decisions.