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Millions of those 5-star online reviews are fake; Here’s how to spot them

Fake reviews are all over the internet and have become a big industry meant to fool consumers.

Bob Segall

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Published: 12:40 AM EST February 14, 2022
Updated: 12:17 PM EST February 15, 2022

When hiring a contractor, going out to eat, buying a computer or selecting a doctor, the first stop for millions of Americans is to check online reviews. Nearly 90% of consumers consult those reviews before making a purchase, according to a recent study commissioned by TrustPilot.

But a 13News investigation shows many of the 5-star ratings you see online are not what they appear.

For example, 13 Investigates examined an Indianapolis locksmith service that displays nothing but 5-star reviews on Google. Of those 147 glowing reviews, a reviewer named James loved the "Fantastic customer service." Krissy found the company "Professional and friendly!" and Noel declared "Best locksmith in town."

Before you get too impressed, take a closer look at the reviewers’ profile photos. Using free online image search tools, 13 Investigates discovered they are celebrities.

The picture of Noel is actually actor and singer Darren Criss. James used a photo of Akshay Kumar and Radhika Apte, famous actors in India. And Krissy chose a flattering picture of model and Miss Vietnam winner Jennifer Pham.

Credit: WTHR
The profile pictures of some reviews WTHR found actually belong to famous people. For example, these reviews feature pictures of actors Akshay Kumar and Radhika Apte, Miss Vietnam winner Jennifer Pham and singer Darren Criss.

Also suspicious, some of the reviewers seem to have an unusually difficult time keeping track of their keys.

13 Investigates discovered Krissy allegedly locked herself out of her car seven times in a single month – resulting in 5-star reviews for seven different locksmiths across five separate states. Another reviewer named Jane wrote a dozen 5-star reviews for locksmiths, claiming she too was rescued by locksmiths all over the country after locking herself out of her car 12 times in the same month.

Reviews that include celebrity photos and that are written by people who post lots of 5-star reviews for a specific industry within a short period of time show classic warning signs of potential fraud.

The truth is, fake reviews are all over the internet – not just on Google, but on Facebook, Yelp, TrustPilot, Amazon and other popular websites. Fraudulent reviews have become a big industry meant to fool consumers, and most of us have no idea how to tell the difference between reviews that are real and those that are not.

While many online reviews are fake, their consequences can be very real and even devastating.