How to tell if a testimonial is fake: Spruiker alert

How to tell if a testimonial is fake: Spruiker alert
How to tell if a testimonial is fake: Spruiker alert

Checking testimonials and reviews, particularly online, are one way we all do a little bit of our due diligence when looking for any type of holiday accommodation or even restaurant to go to.

Property investors also largely use them for experts and professionals to help them with their buying, renovating, building and even accounting.

In fact, they're such a powerful way to be convinced into using a particular company or individual that it's rare to see a website without them.

But, just as it's easy to write someone a testimonial - which they may, or may not, use - it's just as easy for a less-than-reputable character to be overtly selective with their testimonials or just to fabricate them completely.

WHAT IS A TESTIMONIAL

Testimonials are comments from customers and clients of a service or product that explain their service and how they found dealing with a company of person. They are heavily used as marketing tools, and for promotion, in every industry - from the Sham Wow to the back of a novel. Testimonials can be incredibly useful for finding out what other people think about a service.

You might see them in newspapers, in emails, on websites or forums (particularly the business' own website), on review websites and in brochures.

MUST KNOW

Before we get into when to be alerted by a potentially fake testimonial, for companies in Australia it's worth noting that making, relying or using false or misleading testimonials is unlawful, according to Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).

That means, while they shouldn't be falsified, if they are then you do have a right to notify Consumer Affairs about it.

CAV notes that businesses that regularly rely on testimonials include alternative health care businesses, restaurants, weight loss service provides and, of course, estate agents.

Businesses that regularly rely on testimonials include alternative health care businesses, restaurants, weight loss service provides and, of course, estate agents.

If you're a real estate company using testimonials, basically make sure they're coming from real people, you haven't paid for a review, that you note down if there has been any sort of commercial relationship with that person, that you do not delete negative reviews and that you keep records of them all.

Remember, while less common, some do use fake testimonials to purposely say bad things about a competitor as well. These are also misleading, and you'll want to keep an eye out for them.

WHAT TO BE WARY OF

Duplicate reviews in different names, or appearing in different places multiple times.

Reviews that seem to overtly suggest you use the service, often providing discounts or codes. They may even be slagging off a competitor within the same review.

Review websites that are in some way associated to the company.

Email addresses with three or more numbers at the end - suggesting this is fake and may have been created by an automated program.

If it's an Australian company that deals with primarily Australian residents, then be wary if all the reviews have Americanised spelling. This should be a surefire warning sign that there's something fishy going on.

Those that sound like advertisements (there's a specific tone to be aware of). Be alerted by anything over the top, overly endorsement heavy, and non-specific. If they have industry-specific terms or phrasing that an average person is unlikely to use - also be aware.

Websites where all the reviews are positive or where large numbers of reviews sit at either end of the spectrum. The majority of real people give reviews within the two to four star bracket, rather than the one and five stars.

The majority of real people give reviews within the two to four star bracket, rather than the one and five stars.

Gut feeling is a powerful thing. Would this be something you could see yourself writing if you had the same good/bad experience? If not, why not?

Do they overtly use words and phrasing that a typical person would not? For instance, they may refer to a iPad Mini as an iPad or an iPad Mini, but it's unlikely they'd refer to its complete specs in a review e.g. iPad Mini 16GB with retina display and Wifi. Similarly, phrasing might be a little... off, particularly if cliched.

Not everyone is a wordsmith, and it's likely some people will use typical phraseology to review an item, but something like the following sentence reeks of falsity: "Great buying experience, couldn't be happier - now on my way to millions!". Unconvinced? So are we.

While not everyone will allow you to check their identity, usually there's at least one person with their full name (in which case, is it a "common" name that cannot be verified?).

If photos are with the testimonial - are they stock photos? Have you seen them used elsewhere? Search the photo through Google images' search function or through a reverse image search. Just because a photo has been included, it doesn't mean it's real.

Have you checked reviews across a number of sites? If you haven't it's time to get Googling a little more. Check out forums, where unhappy clients may be able to tackle false reviews more easily by providing their own experiences.

Look for links. Links to a person's blog or own website can be a powerful thing, suggesting they're a real individual. However, a 'tracking' link or a link that redirects you suggests that the review may be paid for.

If you're wanting to verify any further, then Property Observer suggests calling the company in question and asking for contact details for the person who provided the review - or for your contact detail to be passed on (such as an email).

Video testimonials can be even more convincing for some, however how do you know when the video was taken? Was the reviewer halfway through a seminar, or about to head in? Again, it's worth asking to contact the individual themselves.

Think you've seen a false review on a property product online? Email: [email protected]

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke was a property writer at Property Observer

Tags: 
Consumer Affairs Scam Investor Warning

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