For businesses to effectively address fake online reviews, it is important to have a plan in place that is not just reactive but also proactive. Knowing how to avoid fake reviews begins with an understanding of their origins and impacts and the implementation of preventative measures and safeguards to mitigate their damage should your business receive them.
To ensure your business minimizes the chances of receiving negative online reviews, it is paramount to first consistently deliver a great customer experience. Doing so can naturally encourage genuine, positive feedback. Additionally, responding directly to both positive and negative reviews shows engagement and commitment to customer satisfaction.
Further, conduct regular monitoring of review sites and review platforms, as it allows for quick identification and management of any suspicious reviews. Using tools specifically designed to detect fake reviews can further bolster your defenses against false and malicious feedback. Lastly, integrating verified purchase review platforms adds an extra layer of credibility, ensuring that reviews come from actual customers.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience helping individuals and businesses address online defamation, including removing fake reviews and monitoring the internet for additional damaging content and attacks. We help clients navigate complex platform reporting processes, uncover anonymous reviews, and pursue legal action to compel the removal of reviews (if necessary).
In this article, we will provide actionable insights to help you detect, address, and shield your business from fake reviews.
Common Reasons Businesses Receive Fake Reviews
Receiving a fake or negative review is not uncommon in the business world; in fact, it is almost a rite of passage for long-standing enterprises. It is vital to understand that this is not a catastrophe but rather an opportunity to learn about the motives behind these reviews and further solidify your business’s product, processes, and services.
Understanding why fake reviews occur can help you stay vigilant and prepared should a wave of less-than-favorable feedback come your way.
At Minc Law, we understand the distress and disruption caused by receiving a fake review. Often, these reviews come unexpectedly, perhaps at night, just as you are trying to relax or sleep. Suddenly, you are jolted into action, scouring your customer database for a match, questioning if something went amiss. This gut punch of anxiety can distract you from your primary work, and it tends to have a snowball effect as you scramble to gather information and address the situation.
We understand how such incidents can ruin your day and know firsthand the distress they cause. That is why we strive to equip business owners with the knowledge and tools to navigate these challenges effectively.
In today’s competitive digital business landscape, some rivals may stoop to unethical practices, such as posting fake negative reviews, to undermine your reputation. This form of sabotage is a deliberate attempt to gain an unfair market advantage.
In our practice, we have observed countless competitors employing tactics like posting fake reviews to decrease a business’s average star rating. They understand the power of these ratings: if the average is sufficiently low, most consumers will not bother delving into the specifics of the reviews or conducting further research. Instead, they will likely move on, choosing to engage with other businesses.
Disgruntled Former Employees or Personal Grudges
Negative reviews do not always originate from customer experiences; they can occasionally be traced back to personal grievances. This may include disgruntled former employees who hold a grudge and wish to harm the business’s reputation as a form of retaliation.
Similarly, individuals embroiled in personal disputes with the business or its owners might choose this method to inflict damage. These reviews are not reflective of the actual service or product quality but rather are fueled by a desire to hurt the business’s standing in the public eye.
Extortion & Blackmail
Sometimes, businesses face threats of negative reviews not from genuine customer dissatisfaction but as a means of extortion or blackmail. Unscrupulous individuals exploit the online review system, using the threat of damaging a business’s reputation to coerce owners into providing money, services, or other unwarranted perks.
This manipulative tactic leverages the significant impact that online reviews can have on a business’s public perception and financial success, turning it into a tool for personal gain.
How to Avoid & Mitigate the Impact of Fake Reviews
While it is nearly impossible to evade negative or fake reviews completely, it is important to view them as an inevitable part of business growth and focus on response strategies. Consider it a badge of honor; how you handle these reviews often matters more than the reviews themselves.
There are both proactive and reactive steps you can take to ensure your business’s online reputation accurately represents authentic customer experiences and mitigate the impact that fake reviews have on your online reputation.
In this section, we will delve into effective measures that can help reduce the likelihood of fake reviews and protect the credibility of your brand.
Impeccable Customer Service
Providing excellent customer service is a key strategy in cultivating customer loyalty and encouraging genuine reviews. It is also a great line of defense against fake reviews. When customers are satisfied, and feel comfortable coming to you with issues (should any arise), they may be more likely to share their positive experiences, thereby naturally countering any potential impact from fake reviews.
At Minc Law, we have seen firsthand the benefits of impeccable service. Our approach includes thorough explanations from the start, transparency in our dealings, and regular updates, all aimed at exceeding client expectations.
To ensure an outstanding customer experience, aim to focus on the customer at every interaction point. Whether it is in a physical store or through your online presence, each touchpoint is an opportunity to impress and engage. Providing personalized and friendly service is key. Excellent customer service is rooted in respect, promptness, effective problem-solving, clear communication, and honesty. It is about making customers feel valued, swiftly addressing their needs, and maintaining a positive, well-informed team.
It is crucial to equip employees with the necessary tools and training to solve problems efficiently and deliver great experiences. Consistently offering value, wisely leveraging technology, and showing genuine appreciation can help build customer loyalty and encourage referrals. Most importantly, use customer feedback to improve the experience.
By focusing on these key aspects, businesses can not only avoid negative reviews but also build a base of loyal, satisfied customers who are likely to reflect their positive experiences in their reviews. This approach to customer service fortifies the business against the detrimental effects of fake feedback.
Use Verified Purchase Review Platforms
Encouraging customers to leave reviews on platforms that require purchase verification is an effective way to add credibility to the review process. These platforms make it more challenging for fake reviews to go unnoticed and lend authenticity to the feedback provided. Verified purchase reviews also tend to be more trusted by consumers.
Here are some notable platforms that offer this feature:
- Amazon: Amazon, one of the pioneers in allowing online reviews, includes a verified purchase badge on reviews. This badge confirms that the reviewer purchased the item from Amazon, adding a layer of trust to the review.
- Better Business Bureau (BBB): The BBB indicates whether a review comes from a verified purchase.
- Trustpilot: On Trustpilot, reviews marked as “verified” signify that the reviewer has had a genuine experience with the business. This is often confirmed through automated invitation tools used by businesses to solicit reviews or by documentation provided by the reviewer.
Focusing on these platforms for customer feedback can significantly enhance the trustworthiness of the reviews your business receives, as verified purchase reviews offer a more reliable reflection of customer experiences.
Regularly Monitor Review Sites & Platforms
Vigilant monitoring of popular review platforms is important for the early detection and management of fake reviews. Prompt action is crucial to preserve the authenticity of your business’s online reputation.
- Google My Business (GMB): Google’s market share in search engines exceeds 90%, meaning reviews on GMB are incredibly influential and often the first set of reviews a consumer sees when searching online. For many consumers, their first interaction with a business is through Google Search and Maps, making it imperative for businesses to keep a close watch on their Google reviews.
- Yelp: Despite a recent dip in its usage statistics, Yelp remains an important platform due to its significant role in shaping consumer trust. Monitoring and managing Yelp reviews is essential, as it still commands attention from a substantial proportion of online consumers.
- Facebook: Facebook reviews continue to be influential, even with a slight decrease in their usage for review purposes. The platform’s extensive user base and the amount of time people spend on it mean that bad Facebook reviews can have a considerable impact on a business’s reputation.
- Better Business Bureau (BBB): The BBB is a trusted source for many consumers, making it an important platform for businesses to monitor. With millions visiting the site monthly, reviews on BBB can greatly influence consumer decisions and perceptions of business credibility.
To spot fake and malicious reviews right away, we recommend that medical professionals diligently monitor popular review sites like Healthgrades, Vitals, WebMD, RateMDs, and RealSelf. Attorneys and law firms can monitor Avvo, Martindale-Hubbel, Lawyers.com, and Findlaw.com to stay on top of their online reputations.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive article ‘What to Do if Your Law Firm Receives a Fake Online Review’.
Utilize Tools to Detect Fake Reviews
Incorporating technology solutions to identify suspicious review patterns is an effective method for spotting and addressing fake reviews. These tools can analyze aspects like repeated language or unusual IP addresses, providing a quick means to challenge inauthentic feedback.
Several tools are particularly useful in this regard:
- The Transparency Company: specializes in identifying fake reviews by analyzing patterns and inconsistencies in user feedback.
- Fakespot: Uses sophisticated algorithms to detect fraudulent reviews across various platforms.
- Pasabi: Focuses on recognizing counterfeit reviews through pattern analysis and data scrutiny.
- Bazaarvoice: Offers solutions to ensure the authenticity and quality of user-generated content.
- ReviewTrackers: Provides insights into customer feedback, helping businesses identify and manage fake reviews.
Additionally, setting up Google Alerts for your business can serve as a primary notification system whenever new content or reviews are published. This allows for prompt monitoring and response to any potentially false reviews as they appear online.
Key Strategies Businesses Can Use to Identify Fake Reviews
Should you receive a less-than-stellar online review, it is necessary to assess if it reflects a genuine customer or marketplace interaction or is fabricated. In our experience, one major red flag is when a review is egregious yet lacks specifics. These reviews often contain overly negative sentiments without directly addressing specific incidents or individuals. Their ambiguous nature, sometimes bordering on the absurd, can make it clear they are phony.
Check Official Company Records
Maintaining comprehensive business records is not just a matter of regulatory compliance; it is a crucial tool in the battle against fake online reviews. When you come across a review that raises suspicions, cross-referencing it with your customer database, transaction history, and complaint files can be an effective way to verify its authenticity.
Consider the following questions to evaluate the review:
- Does the username on the review match or resemble any actual customers?
- Can you find any transactions that align with the details mentioned in the review?
- Does the negative experience described, in the review, mirror any customer complaints you have on file?
If the answers to these questions lean toward “No,” there is a good chance that the review is fabricated.
Investigate the Profile Behind the Feedback
To determine the legitimacy of a review, examine the profile of the user who posted it. Most review platforms allow you to view the user’s profile, revealing their history and level of activity on the site. This step can uncover crucial details that might indicate whether a review is genuine or fake.
If a profile was created on the same day the review was posted, or the user has little to no activity beyond the review for your business, that should raise a red flag.
While these signs do not conclusively prove a review is fake, they are common indicators used by individuals who misuse online reviews. Keeping an eye on these patterns can help you protect your business’s online reputation.
Look For Username Red Flags
Usernames can often provide valuable clues about the legitimacy of a review. Fake reviewers tend to employ certain tactics to disguise their identity in a recognizable pattern. For instance, they might use initials or incomplete names like “Alex T.” or “Sara K.” to maintain some anonymity.
Another common tactic is the use of sarcastic or comically suggestive usernames. Examples could include names like “Seymore Butts” or “Ella Vator” – names that play on words and hint at a lack of seriousness.
Additionally, pay attention to the profile pictures associated with these usernames. Questionable usernames are sometimes paired with humorous images or stock photos. A reverse image search on Google can usually help you trace the origin of a profile picture. This can be done by uploading the image to Google Images, dragging and dropping it into the search bar, or using a URL to search. Identifying stock images or widely used pictures can further hint at the inauthenticity of a review.
Consider When the Reviews Were Posted
A sudden influx of low-star ratings, especially if your business typically enjoys high ratings, is a reason for concern. This abrupt shift could signify a targeted attempt to damage your reputation rather than genuine customer feedback.
Another aspect to be wary of is the regularity of negative reviews. If you notice negative reviews being posted at regular intervals – be it daily, weekly, or monthly – this pattern could indicate a deliberate effort to harm your business rather than random customer dissatisfaction.
The time of day when reviews are posted can also be telling. If the bulk of negative reviews appear at odd hours, such as when most of your customer base would normally be asleep, this should raise doubts. Such unusual timing suggests that the reviews are not coming from your actual customer demographic.
Examine the Wording of the Review
The language used in a review can often reveal its true nature. For negative reviews, certain characteristics are common in fake ones. They may:
- Describe your products or services inaccurately,
- Include subtle or overt promotion of a competitor,
- Feature inflammatory or overly dramatic language, or
- Display poor grammar or awkward phrasing.
When assessing positive reviews, the indicators often differ. Fake positive reviews are usually crafted to praise a brand, convincing readers to engage with the company, often straying from reality. Signs that a positive review might be fabricated include:
- A user posting multiple glowing reviews in a short timeframe for similar products or the same company,
- Language that is excessively humorous, sarcastic, or seems out of place, or
- Reviews that are exceptionally well-written, entertaining, or seem more like a promotional piece than a genuine experience.
In both cases, the extremity and tone of the language used can be a telltale sign of the review’s legitimacy. It is important to analyze the content critically to determine if it is a fake narrative aimed at manipulating public perception.
Look For Indicators of a Maliciously Targeted Review
In certain situations, fake online reviews can be part of a targeted attack by “review hitmen” or agencies, often hired by competitors. These malicious tactics are typically outsourced to individuals or groups outside the United States.
One clear sign of a review hit job is the nature of the review itself. These reviews tend to be vague and may contain broken English, with grammatical errors that go beyond simple typos.
We have also uncovered the existence of shady Facebook groups and similar networks operating as review exchanges. In these groups, members, who are often unscrupulous, agree to post reciprocal positive reviews for each other’s clients. They may also engage in posting negative reviews against the competitors of their clients. These practices point to a larger, coordinated effort to manipulate online reviews.
How Businesses Can Deal With Fake Reviews
Generally, there are two scenarios that impact how businesses can address fake online reviews: either you are in the dark about who posted the fake review, or you have a good idea who is behind it.
In both cases, different strategies apply, but the goal remains the same: protect your business’s reputation and ensure the authenticity of the feedback you receive.
Ask the Author to Take the Review Down
When dealing with a fake or negative review, direct communication with the author can sometimes resolve the issue. Often, individuals post online complaints to be heard, and acknowledging their concerns and offering solutions can be effective.
When possible, opt for a phone call rather than a written response. This personal touch can reassure the customer that their grievances are taken seriously. If a call is not feasible, offering a line of communication, like a direct message on social media, is advisable.
Remember, the goal is to defuse the situation and protect your reputation, not escalate it.
Respond Directly on the Platform
One common question we encounter is, “Should I respond to a review?” The answer is yes but with caveats. Generally, a public response on the review platform should be a last resort, reserved for extremely damaging reviews or when no other resolution is possible.
Responding to a review may inadvertently increase its visibility and, in some cases, might even encourage more negative feedback. There is the risk of exacerbating the situation with a poor response. However, there are circumstances when responding to a negative review is beneficial.
If the review is genuine, addressing a real concern or problem, a thoughtful response is advisable. The same applies if your business is undergoing a PR crisis, is a well-known brand, or operates in an industry that receives a high volume of reviews.
For a comprehensive guide on how to respond to bad reviews, consider reading our article on the subject.
Keep HIPAA Considerations in Mind
For healthcare and medical professionals, responding online can be particularly challenging due to regulations like HIPAA. These standards make it difficult to respond effectively without risking violating patient confidentiality obligations.
At Minc Law, our recommendation for those in the healthcare industry is to refrain from responding to reviews online. The potential for breaching patient confidentiality is too high a risk to take. We recommend reaching out to an experienced internet defamation attorney to help you navigate this ethical minefield.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive guide explaining how medical professionals should approach online reviews.
Flag & Report the Review For Terms of Service Violations
A common question we encounter is why Google or other platforms do not always act on reports of fake reviews. It is important to understand that platforms and internet service providers are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which means they are not typically responsible for policing user-generated content.
When dealing with a fake review, the first step is to flag it. This action alerts the platform that there might be an issue with the review, prompting them to take a closer look. However, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the platform’s guidelines and Terms of Service (TOS) to ensure the review actually violates their policies.
Most platforms, including Google, have guidelines prohibiting:
- Spam and fraudulent content,
- Restricted content (e.g., illegal goods and services),
- Sexually explicit or terrorist content,
- Off-topic content,
- Offensive or obscene language,
- Brand impersonations or intellectual property infringement, and
- Dangerous or derogatory content.
After identifying a specific violation, you can flag the review by following the platform’s instructions. Remember, while flagging a review is an essential step, it is part of a process that may take some time and might not always result in immediate removal due to the platforms’ policies and regulations.
For further reading, please see our comprehensive resource answering, “Can I Sue Google?”.
Pursue Legal Action Over the Review
Taking legal action over a review is a significant step and should be considered a last resort only after all other avenues have been explored.
When dealing with a fake reviewer, legal proceedings can be one way to get a review removed. However, in many cases, these disputes are resolved without the need for a trial.
If the reviewer is unknown, a John Doe lawsuit may be filed to attempt to unmask their identity. If the reviewer’s identity is known, direct negotiation or a demand letter can be effective first steps. Either way, the process often involves a thorough investigation.
Legal action is typically pursued in three scenarios: when the review is defamatory and legally actionable, when it is part of harassment or extortion efforts, or when it violates the platform’s TOS and cannot be removed by other means. It is important to note that suing the review platform itself is usually not a viable option; the focus should be on the reviewer.
Finally, there are risks involved in initiating litigation. Lawsuits can become contentious, with various defenses being asserted and evidence scrutinized. There is also the risk of the Streisand Effect, where attempting to suppress information only leads to more attention.
It is important to consult an experienced defamation attorney to help you assess your legal options, weigh the pros and cons, and determine if suing for defamation is right for your specific situation.
Suing Over a Wordless One-Star Fake Online Review
When it comes to wordless one-star reviews, the legal landscape is nuanced. Generally, these reviews are seen as expressions of opinion and are not, in themselves, defamatory. Defamation requires a false statement of fact, which a wordless review does not provide.
However, wordless reviews can sometimes be addressed through claims of defamation per quod. This approach takes into account external factors that might render the review actionable, such as the context in which it was posted or a pattern that suggests malicious content.
It is important to remember that each situation is unique, and the decision to pursue legal action should be based on a careful evaluation of the specific circumstances surrounding the reviews.
Collect Positive Reviews to Mitigate the Damage
Generating a steady stream of positive reviews helps mitigate the impact of any negative or fake reviews. When your business consistently receives genuine, positive feedback, it reduces the sting of the occasional negative review. However, it is important to adhere to FTC guidelines, which prohibit incentivizing reviews.
Moreover, when seeking assistance collecting positive reviews, ensure the process remains authentic and above board. Hiring external help to generate reviews can be beneficial, but it must be done in a way that ensures the reviews are genuine reflections of customer experience.
For instance, we use tools like ReviewInc to streamline the process of gathering reviews. ReviewInc helps in sending out emails to clients, encouraging them to leave feedback if they had a positive experience. The key is timing and targeting; we send review requests to clients soon after a successful outcome in their case. This approach ensures that the feedback is timely and relevant to their recent experience.
Utilize Online Reputation Management & SEO Strategies to Suppress Negative Content
In cases where removing a negative review is not feasible or worthwhile, online reputation management (ORM) and SEO strategies can be valuable alternatives. ORM involves a blend of strategies, techniques, and tools aimed at generating positive content and reviews, thereby enhancing your online reputation.
SEO complements ORM by employing tactics to improve the ranking of websites and content on search engines like Google. Ideally, a well-crafted ORM campaign will include a strong emphasis on SEO to ensure the visibility of positive content.
The goal of reputation management is to overshadow negative reviews by amplifying positive information about a business. Over time, this approach can push the negative review down in search rankings, making it less visible or noticeable. This is achieved by creating substantial positive content through ORM and then leveraging SEO techniques to ensure the content ranks well in search results.
Proactively building a positive online reputation not only serves as a defense against bad reviews but also simplifies the process of managing them when they do occur. A credible and well-regarded business presence can make it easier to handle the occasional negative feedback and maintain a positive public perception.
We Help Businesses Remove Fake Online Reviews
If you are a business owner who is facing a barrage of fake online reviews, it can be difficult to know where to begin to get them taken down. At Minc Law, we can help.
We have extensive experience helping hundreds of businesses, including medical practices and law firms, remove negative and fake online reviews from the internet. We know what works and what does not. We also have proven experience identifying anonymous reviews and pursuing legal action to compel the removal of fake reviews from consumer platforms.
“I thank/recommend MincLaw/Ms.Caroline Ford JD with the highest regards for the assistance that they provided in helping me with 2 horrific false reviews on yelp.Yelp had constructed a business page for “my benefit”.When I checked the page I saw a vicious 1 star false review from a person for whom I have no medical record/billing record. The review was horrific.My attempts to contact this pt thru the yelp website was fruitless. My lawyer had no expertise in internet defamation.I found Minclaw which specializes in internet defamation.I was assigned Ms C Ford JD. who did an OUTSTANDING job with the above review.I also had an another nasty review from a yelp reviewer with 156 mostly 1 star reviews with hostile false statements. Ms. Ford contacted this person and after intense back and forth with this reviewer, she deleted her review. Yelp is a NIGHTMARE. Your only course of action is to deal directly with the reviewer for which you need a law firm that specializes in internet defamation.”
November 15, 2022
If you would like to explore your legal options to address and remove fake online reviews, reach out to schedule your initial no-obligation consultation by calling us at (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat Representative, or filling out our online contact form.