Beware of Customer Reviews

October 15, 2009 11:03:21 PM PDT
Almost 80 percent of online shoppers check user reviews, before they buy. You may think user reviews are posted by shoppers just like you and me. Karen Schmidt first looks online to see what other people are recommending. Consumer Reports cautions - not all user reviews are objective and independent.

Consumer Reports Lisa Lee Freeman said, "Believe it or not, many of these reviews are written by employees who are posing as satisfied customers."

Lifestyle lift - a chain of cosmetic surgery clinics - was fined $300-thousand dollars because its employees published positive reviews and engaged in deceptive commercial practices.

Freeman said, "Bloggers are another source of suspect reviews. They may be getting freebies or payments from companies to say positive things about their products."

Take the web site izea.com.

The site brags it's gotten a million product mentions online with paid bloggers.

Some warning signs of suspect reviews - there's no mention of personal experience with the item. And they list only the pros and none of the cons.

Also be on the lookout for sponsorship disclosures. But they can be hard to spot.

Another tip: don't stop at the first two or three reviews. At least one site - yelp.com - says it moves a positive review to the top spot if the business pays for it.

Bottom line - be skeptical. Before you buy, check lots of sources.

The Federal Trade Commission is expected to release new guidelines soon, requiring paid reviews to be clearly identified.

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