Fliking raising its ugly head again

Back in 2016, the growing issue of fake reviews being offered for sale became a major concern for market place websites, who vowed to clamp down on the unethical, and in many places, illegal practice. Fliking” (fake liking) became a trend that was an issue not only for the market places but the brand holders and consumers.

Fliking (Fl-ike-ing) is my word for this practice. Meaning to solicit or buy social media likes, tweets or positive reviews….or simply fraud. Paying someone to say something that could be untrue can be classed as misleading, false advertising or fraudulent.

Despite the efforts from the major marketplaces, the issue still exists as highlighted in a new report by Which? The consumer group found 10 websites selling fake reviews from £5 each and incentivising positive reviews in exchange for payment or free products.

Just over two years ago, another Which? report highlighted the issue of fake reviews and how they were being used to trick consumers. Eighteen months ago they updated that report, sharing the truth that very little had changed. Unfortunately, as their most recent report shows, the unethical practice is still happening on the major marketplaces today.

Because our relationships with brands and marketplaces changed so much over the last year thanks to enforced restrictions and lockdown we face. We now rely on online shopping more so than ever and, more importantly, have had to adapt to communicating with others through technology rather than in person. That has led to a rise in people seeking reviews and opinions before they make purchases. Social media expert Erik Qualmann found in a study that over 90% of shoppers are influenced by Social Media and trust peer recommendations over adverts. In Which? survey of more than 2,000 UK adults in 2018, 97% use online customer reviews when researching a product. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates that over £23 billion per annum of UK consumer spending is influenced by online customer reviews.

So why is this an issue? Fake reviews leads to consumers buying products that may be poor quality, or may not even exist at all. The more positive reviews a product gets, the higher ranked it may appear on some market place sites, and thus starts a Catch22 situation. Consumers could end up buying products that are sub-standard or even dangerous based on the fake reviews. Any brand holder will tell you that one of the keys to a successful Social Media strategy is getting your message in front of the right people at the right time. Whilst they will use social media or peer review sites to great effect, so too do the fraudsters.

The Which? report found that these weren’t small organisations who were offering the fake reviews. One of the businesses they researched had more than 700,000 reviewers on their books, who are offered incentives such as payments, free or discounted products and the opportunity to take part in loyalties schemes.

The big market place sites such as Amazon go to great lengths to try to spot and stop fake reviews but with so many products offered on one of the world’s biggest websites it is an ongoing, uphill battle. We, as consumers need to play our part in the fight against this unethical and illegal practice. We need to be on the lookout for some tell-tale signs that could reveal products that have fake reviews. These could include:

  • Too many 5-star, positive reviews – Be cautious of products that aren’t household names that have a plethora of overly positive reviews, especially if they have been added in a short period of time. Even great products will have some 3 or 4 star reviews.
  • Copycat reviews – Look for common language in reviews which could suggest that they are template reviews.
  • Look for verified purchases – On many websites actual product purchasers who submit a review are annotated as being “verified”. Whilst this isn’t a fool-proof method of identification, fake reviewers do not tend to buy the products in the first place.
  • Check the reviewers profile – If you are unsure about a review, look at the reviewers profile and see what other products they have been reviewing. Few people will spend all day adding reviews unless they are being incentivised to do so.
  • If it looks too good to be true – The final test is the most basic. If a review doesn’t sit right with you, pass on by.

It is an unfortunate byproduct of our thirst for a bargain and our reliance on online marketplace websites that fraudsters continue to find ways to cause brand holders and consumers issues. Fliking is another example of how criminals have adapted their behaviours to take advantage of the current economic situation, one which consumers need to be aware of and prepared to take an additional step to ensure that they stay safe and secure when shopping online.

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