Can You Trust User Reviews?

Almost 80% of online shoppers check user reviews, according to a just-released Consumer Reports' poll. ShopSmart magazine cautions-you can't believe everything you read.

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

Lifestyle Lift-a chain of cosmetic surgery clinics-was fined $300,000 because its employees published positive reviews and engaged in deceptive commercial practices.

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

Take the Web site Izea.com.

"Compensation can come in the form of cash, gift cards, points, products, or services." said Freeman.

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.

The reviewer lists only the pros and none of the cons.

Also be on the lookout for sponsorship disclosures. But they can be hard to spot, like this one from Coldstone Creamery.

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 says it's concerned about what amounts to paid advertising masquerading as user reviews and blogs online.

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


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