4 ways to spot a fake online review

I was poking around Amazon a while back and saw an 85-inch Samsung TV that cost $45,000. Just for fun, I checked out the reviews and saw these gems:

"I was going to fund my daughters wedding in Hawaii, but I figured this Samsung TV would last much longer." – Jordan

 "The black levels and color depth on this TV are pretty good for the price. However, the small screen size is a deal breaker. I recommend buying an IMAX theater instead." - David

If you haven't run across them before, there's a long tradition of users leaving funny fake reviews on odd or extravagant products on Amazon.com. Here are some of the funniest ones I've found.

Unfortunately, not all fake reviews are hilarious. Marketing firms often pay people to leave positive reviews on major seller sites to boost sales. In fact, Amazon just sued more than 1,000 people who were paid to post fake five-star reviews on products.

Even legitimate reviews might be unhelpful. Maybe the reviewer went overboard with unwarranted praise or criticism. You don't want to base your purchasing decision on faulty information. We're going to look at how you can tell the difference between a real, helpful review and a fake or unhelpful one.

But first ... Before we go into the signs, there's a general rule I need to mention. You should never base a buying decision on only one online review, positive or negative.

Look around the site you're on and other shopping sites or online sources for more reviews. Additional reviews will help you get a picture of what the product is really like. Also, don't just go by star ratings, because reviewers have different things they consider pros and cons.

Here's an example: I was looking at reviews for a printer recently, and some people who gave it five stars mentioned that it used ink a little fast, but its print quality was great. Other people gave it one star and said the print quality was great, but it burned through ink. It's the same information from completely different viewpoints. So don't just skim.

OK, now for the signs of fake or unhelpful reviews.

1. Non-factual or overly factual reviews

Facts are important in a review. When you're writing your own reviews, staying factual can protect you from a lawsuit. And factual tips are useful for everyone.

If you see a string of reviews that are heavy on adjectives ("Amazing!" "Fantastic!" "Life-changing!") and light on facts, skip them. You're looking for reviews that tell you what specific features the reviewer found that make it a good, or bad, product.

In fact, you’ll often save time by skipping five-star reviews and looking at the four-star and one-star reviews to see what negatives people mention. But, again, negatives need to be backed up with facts. "It was terrible" tells you a lot less than "It worked fine for three weeks and then the power button fell off."

On the other end of the spectrum, you might find reviews that have too many facts and no conclusions. They might just be lists of product features with no information about how the products performed. That's a sign the reviewers are just copying the features list and may not actually own the product.

Amazon does have a "verified purchase" tag on some reviews to show that the person did, in fact, buy the product. Be sure to look for that when you're considering reviews on Amazon.

2. Similar reviews

There have been plenty of times I've been researching a product and noticed similarities in the reviews across several websites. In one case, nearly every review was posted on the same day. That's certainly a red flag, and the fact that none of the reviews was very factual was just the icing.

For another product, every positive review I found was the same exact review. The author's name was even the same on every site. That's not a coincidence. That's just plain lazy on some marketer's part.

Reading through a string of reviews on Amazon, you might notice a whole collection with similar word groupings and writing style. That's usually a warning flag as well. It means the reviewers are either copying the manufacturer's information or the same person wrote them all.

3. New reviewers

Watch out for product reviews from new accounts or new websites. True, the person might have created the account just to buy that product, but some of the reviews should be from long-time members of the site.

Most shopping sites, such as Amazon, let you see the profile of the reviewer. That way, you can see what they've reviewed in the past. Find out what your Amazon profile reveals about you and how to take control of it.

You might find the person has reviewed hundreds of widely dissimilar products, which gives him more credibility than someone who's reviewed only a few items from the same manufacturer. It helps, too, if some of those reviews have factual criticisms.

4. Few reviews

The only thing worse than tons of suspicious reviews is very few reviews. You're left with no way to make comparisons. At that point, every review becomes suspicious, especially if it appears only in an out-of-the-way blog or website.

For example, there might be a "too-good-to-be-true" tech product for sale that doesn't have a review, or even a mention, on any reputable tech site. Or you might have to visit page 10 of Google's search results just to find a review of the product you're after.

In those cases, pass. You're better off buying a competitor’s product that has more reviews, or just not buying that type of product at all.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.