So you want to buy something online but worried you could get stung?Your instincts are right. While most people are honest, the Better BusinessBureau warns consumers that buying from complete strangers online comes withrisk. Feedback and reviews of products and services you could use to help makeyour buying decision could be misleading and online offers can lead you astray.BBB offers clues to keep consumers from falling prey to a poor online purchase.
“Millions of people turn toconsumer reviews of products and services each day to help them with buyingdecisions,” said David Polino, Better Business Bureau President.“Unfortunately, scammers know this, and there is ample evidence that someonline feedback is planted.”
When it comes to reviews, professional writers can stack websites withpositive comments about a particular company’s products or services – ornegative feedback about their competitors. Because of this, the consumer reviewlandscape is often not what it appears to be, and comments should be taken witha grain of salt, whether on retail, reseller, travel or services web sites.
Online resellers often post information to help consumers discern reviews andseller information. BBB recommends consumers peruse this information carefullybefore making the purchase. Amazon has a policy that prohibits “positivereviews for products in which the author has a financial investment.” Asidefrom company staff members and marketers, freelance writers are paid for eachreview they post that praises or trashes a company or its competitor.
While a great deal of online customer feedback is reliable and offers areauthentic, BBB urges consumers to arm themselves with know-how and to considerseveral things when evaluating products and reviews:
It is all in the name – Reviewers’ names thatinclude two or three numbers at the end are often signs of roboticreview-writing software. In addition, some fake reviews can be spotted if thereviewer’s name resembles a business or product name.
Watch out for glowing subject line and verbiage – Most consumers won’tuse subject lines such as “This product changed my life.” Another giveaway isthe repeated use of a product’s complete name and detailed description, such as“The XYZ Model 443 XZ outperformed all other television sets in its category.”
Look for unusual sentence structure – If the review is awkwardly worded,vague or praises its maker’s company, it may be planted. Cut and pastesuspicious sentences into a search engine and see if it comes up on othersites. Does the feedback resemble an ad or review from a real product user?Consumer reviews that read like product descriptions in catalogs and websitesprobably are.
Is there marketing speak in the message? – If the review exudes blindproduct loyalty, uses marketing phrases such as “integrates seamlessly,” or“this is the kind of product that you’ve been looking for,” it was likelywritten by someone who is pushing the product.
Black or white reviews – While a consumer may have strong opinions foror against a company or its products, take a second look at any feedback thatis excessively positive or negative. Once you understand how companies andhired reviewers work, you can often detect a feedback piece with a hiddenagenda.
Long-winded reviews with “life changing” testimonials tend to raise suspicion.However, there is no guarantee a short consumer feedback post is legitimateeither. The best way to get a feeling for a product is to read reviews from avariety of sources, and look for any pattern in feedback on a single site.Friends on social networking sites can be a good source for leads.
The more you read about the product and company, the better you will be atjudging whether you are reading legitimate comments or meaningless marketingdisguised as consumer experience.
Know the product you want. Is the item rare? How much does it usuallysell for? If you find something at a very low cost, it could be a knock-off. Doyour own research via web, books or other authorities before you buy. Do notassume authenticity.
Short duration sales may besuspicious. Therecould be a reason for a brief sale, but it may also set the stage for ahit-and-run seller. Scammers want to hook their bait and then disappear.
Keep the law on your side.Online offers open up the world for transactions, but it’s important to knowAmerican laws do not apply anywhere but in America. So if you tread beyond ourboarders, tread with small amounts to protect your wallet.
Investigate the seller'sfeedback. The volume of comments should not be the onlytool to evaluate a seller, since some of it can be false, it’s important to digfurther. Find out if the seller has bought or sold anything recently. What wasit? Accounts without recent activity are more likely to be stolenaccounts. Is this auction consistentwith items bought and sold in the past? Is the item location the same for this sale as for his last sales? Does the location actually exist? Search forit. Are payment methods the same as the past sales?
Talk to the seller. Ifyou have found what you’re looking for by email, ask for a phone numberprivately. If the seller does not respond, consider it a red flag and keepsearching.
What is the return policy? Buyingonline should offer options and if there aren’t any proceed with certainty.Make sure this is exactly what you want and are willing to pay. If you donegotiate a return, make sure you also have the policy in writing.
Payment method is veryimportant. Use a secure payment method like PayPal andalways pay with a credit card that is separate from your bank account ifpossible. Most credit card issuers will refund money if stolen from you. BBB cautions to never use Western Union for these transactions. Wire transfers of any kind of any kind should only be made when you knowthe recipient is standing by on the other end.