Clark Howard: Fake A.I. Reviews exploding in the online retail industry

The fight against fake reviews is becoming more difficult, thanks to artificial intelligence. Now, the federal government is considering serious consequences for anyone caught posting or selling fake reviews.

Consumer Advisor Clark Howard walks us through the warning and the red flags.

Businesses live or die based on reviews. And that’s why the stakes are so high and so many manipulations going on. Now, with AIG, it’s even worse.

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Learning how to spot fake reviews takes some work. However, business owner Stephen McGrew says finding someone to “sell” you one? Not so much.

“We’ve noticed kind of a ramp-up over his last year,” McGrew said. “These companies are getting creative with the integrating A.I. and that kind of stuff.”

McGrew owns a roofing business said he’s received messages from people soliciting him to buy fake reviews. All of them were sent to him in a span of two months.

“Messages that come in looking like a consumer is contacting us for business. When we open the message, it’s either a robot or a computer offering to provide fake reviews,” McGrew said.

He declined, but the feds say often that is not the case.

A spokesperson from the Federal Trade Commission said, “The rise of artificial intelligence chatbots, makes it a lot easier for companies to post these types of reviews in mass.”

Howard said, in fact, this past summer, the FTC proposed rules for fake reviews and delivered stiff punishments to those who violate them.

If the rules take effect, they include $50,000 fines for anyone caught selling or buying fake reviews, Businesses allowing employees to post reviews, or buying “followers” or “likes” on social media.

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“The proposed rule would both protect consumers who are looking at these reviews and making those types of decisions. And it would protect those businesses who are trying to compete fairly in the marketplace,” the FTC said.

Consumer Rachel Sorrell, said, “I try to distinguish if it’s like a person talking or just you know a very basic review,”

Shoppers said thoroughly reading reviews is worth the time.

Wyn Diaz is a new homeowner who has shopped around for furniture. She explained how reviews almost led her to purchase a bed that would have been a nightmare.

“The deeper I dug into this bed, I almost bought, I saw reviewers saying it’s not stable, it’s not sturdy and that it fell apart after six months,” Diaz said. Irritated she turned to close friends for recommendations.

“If I hadn’t spent 30 minutes digging through these reviews, I would have ended up with the same problem. It’s frustrating,” Diaz said.

Howard said when checking out a business, one of the sites he goes to is Yelp. And on Yelp, you’ve got this problem with all these fake reviews. Very good ones, fake bad ones. So, you can’t go by the star level on any business.

He said read through the reviews. The more you read, the more it’s truth serum. You’ll be able to truly tell. Is it a business? Is it a restaurant? Is it a service you want to buy or not at all.

The biggest online retailer, Amazon, said on its website the company strictly prohibits fake reviews. It is using A.I. for good to combat fake reviews.

Amazon said its machine learning models analyze relations to other accounts, sign-in activity, review history, and other indications of unusual behavior.