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How to spot fake online reviews for businesses

Posted at 6:59 PM, Dec 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-11 20:59:53-05

Online reviews are an important part of vetting any business, but how do you know that you can trust them?

One expert says you may need to check out the reviewers just as much as the businesses.

Mike Blumenthal with helps small businesses manage their online reputations and says some of the reviews you see may be fake.

"If you see a company with a suspicious number of reviews and they're all glowing five-star reviews (that's the) first sign," he said.

Blumenthal showed us highly questionable reviews for several businesses throughout the Valley. Some had reviews from people who had posted opinions on businesses all over the country, which he says can be a red flag.

One of those was from a reviewer named Bernard Cano. Over the span of just a few months he'd given glowing Google reviews to an airport in Massachusetts, an HVAC company in Louisiana, an insurance company in Illinois, a moving company Texas and Superior Replacement Windows in Phoenix.

A Google image search showed that the picture on the Google reviewer profile belonged to someone else.

We found the picture was actually of an economist named Andrew Weaver in Illinois, who says he's "never used a window company in Phoenix" and that none of the reviews on the profile are his.

"They scraped my academic photo off the web somewhere," he says.  

Weaver says he wants the reviews and his picture removed and "to shed light on the issue."

Blumenthal says fake reviews are a type of spam network and "typically all these people are related so businesses or marketing agents acting on their behalf will go out and buy these reviews."

He says, "a lot of times businesses don't even know that the agency they worked with is doing it for them."

Regardless how the fake reviews get there, Blumenthal says Google's systems are allowing it.

"Google has become the prominent way that consumers find businesses these days. I believe that Google has a great responsibility to police these better."

So we asked Google how can we trust them? In a statement, a spokesperson tells us they use automated detection systems but, "Spammers and others with negative intent are a problem for consumers, businesses and technology companies .... we're always working on new and better ways to fight these issues and keep our information up to date."

Blumethal says they are not trying hard enough.

"They have 54,000 people in their company.  27,000 of them are Ph.D. computer engineers. They have the world's best automatic machine learning algorithms and these patterns that I see it should be a relatively easy task to train their computers to see the same patterns."

Superior Replacement Windows did not respond to our phone calls or emails.

Google removed Bernard Cano's reviews but for some reason left Andrew's picture. Here's a link to flag reviews that you believe are fake.