Reviews and review websites are one of the most influential factors when it comes to consumer buy-in, with a BrightLocal survey last year revealing that 91% of 18-34 year old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. But how can you be sure that online reviews of a product or service are from genuine customers, rather than written by a representative of the brand or a paid third party? Fake reviews for products and services are becoming an increasing problem; they can have the dual impact of reducing consumer confidence in online reviews, and the potential to damage the reputation of legitimate businesses. The posting of fake reviews is inexorably linked with the problem of holiday rental fraud.

Why are fake reviews such a problem?

Whether you’re selling a product, a service or – in this case – a holiday rental property such as an apartment or a villa, fake reviews can be damaging to a business’s overall brand image, can significantly reduce consumer trust, and can ultimately mean the chances of securing a sale are greatly lessened.

This problem is also increasingly prevalent in the world of holiday rentals, and it isn’t something that the authorities are taking lightly. Last year a man in Italy was convicted of fraud – and received both prison time and a hefty fine – after his business posted fake reviews on TripAdvisor on behalf of hundreds of local hospitality businesses in order to boost their bookings.

Fake reviews and the holiday rental industry

Due to the increase in fake reviews across a wide variety of industries, consumer trust in both on-page reviews and dedicated review sites is waning. This has the potential to be a major problem for the holiday rental industry, in particular, where customers rely on genuine, personal and informative reviews to inform their booking decisions.

As the holiday rental industry expands rapidly with the growth of online travel agencies and marketplaces, property owners and rental agencies are under increasing pressure to compete in ways that they may not have had to before.

Damian Sheridan, of marketing and advice platform Need More Rentals, recently tweeted an example of a major rental listing site touting their free “property promotion” service in exchange for leaving a Google review of their business. With BrightLocal’s local review survey reporting that consumers need an average of 40 online reviews before they trust a business’s rating, it’s perhaps no wonder that the volume of fake reviews is so high.

How to spot a fake review

According to a survey carried out by Statista, over 50% of UK consumers view reviews as an accurate depiction of the property or place they are visiting – but there are ways to detect when a review is fake and avoid being scammed early in the holiday research and booking process.

Here are a few tips on how to spot fake reviews:

Pay attention to the comments.

There can be any number of clues that an online review might be fake. Look out for reviews that are over the top with lavish praise, as well as reviews that seem either unreasonably short, or too long and detailed. If you are looking at multiple reviews, look out for repeated phrases that might indicate the review is being written to a template.

Watch out for a large number of reviews.

Brands or products with hundreds or even thousands of glowing five-star reviews might truly have hordes of satisfied, loyal customers … or they could have paid third parties to provide those reviews. Be especially suspicious of a large number of positive reviews being posted on the same date.

Check out the reviewer.

Review sites have various methods for displaying the veracity of the reviewer – whether that’s a tick next to the user’s name, or confirmation of a verified purchase. You can get a good insight by checking the user’s other reviews – once again, a large number of effusive five-star reviews can be a sign that the reviewer is being paid to provide them.

Look at low and mid-range reviews.

Not all fake reviews are positive – it’s not unheard of for businesses to leave bad reviews to damage a competitor’s standing. We recommend looking at a mix of positive, middling and low-rated reviews to get a feel for the genuine consensus.

Use online tools.

There are a handful of online tools that are designed to analyse reviews and provide an indication as to how likely they are to be fake. Websites such as Fakespot and ReviewMeta allow you to copy and past a URL, and will provide insights into the nature and quality of reviews.

How I-PRAC can help

I-PRAC conducts thorough checks on property reviews as a part of our in-depth approval process, and our team are highly experienced in identifying fake reviews and understanding the increasing sophistication of fraudsters online. To find out more about how I-PRAC are leading the fight against holiday rental fraud, visit our about page, or contact us today.