If you’ve bought enough stuff on Amazon, there’s a chance you’ve been duped once or twice. That’s because fake Amazon reviews are big business.

It’s also a big headache for consumers. Every time we buy a dud of a faux-five-star product, we grow more leery of buying products from Amazon in the future-even those that actually deserve high ratings. The company makes returning stuff reasonably easy, but if something conks out 31 days after you buy it, you’re often stuck dealing directly with an untrustworthy seller.

While there are several ways to outwit unscrupulous sellers–searching product reviews outside of Amazon, looking into seller history, reading every word of every review from newest to oldest with a magnifying glass–it gets terribly tedious.

In that spirit, here are two simple checks I leverage whenever I’m buying something on Amazon. Neither take very long and both seem to paint a reasonably clear picture of any product I might be considering.

It’s a numbers game

If a product doesn’t have a lot of reviews and if the reviews it does have seem overwhelmingly positive, something strange may be afoot. Consider the listing shown below.

Not to pick on this unidentified product in particular–to be fair, it may be incredible–but it has three written reviews that use the word “love” a combined total of five times.

One review calls it “better than described” and another basically excitedly regurgitates all the selling points from the marketing messaging.

Life in the two- to four-star range tends to be pretty honest.

Oh, and the titles for the three reviews: There’s “Love it” and of course “Excellent product” and then we dismount with “Entertainment for the whole family! Super fun!”

And finally, notice that two of the reviews have the “Verified Purchase” tag next to them. This means that Amazon can attest that the person who reviewed this thing actually bought it from Amazon. Two of the reviews have this tag, but the one that doesn’t features a user-submitted photo of the device.

A cynic might wonder if the company bought two of its own devices in order to submit “Verified Purchase” reviews and then submitted another review with a homemade photo of the device in order to make it seem like a legit review.

So, red flags abound here. Again: Not that this product might not be absolutely the greatest of its kind–and the reviews legitimate–but this is a risky proposition.

Also, be sure to check the dates of the reviews. The oldest one here is from October of 2021, meaning that this product has been out for almost a year yet only has three reviews.

Honesty lives in the middle of the road

For products that have substantially more than three reviews, I like to throw out all the five-star reviews since those may be bought, company submitted, or simply posted by overzealous wackadoos. And I like to throw out all the one-star reviews since those may be submitted by competitors, malcontents, or overzealous wackadoos.

But, life in the two- to four-star range tends to be pretty honest.

To filter reviews in this way, scroll all the way down to the reviews section of a particular product and you’ll notice a simple “See all reviews >” link underneath the bottom-most review. This is where the magic happens.

Click it and you’ll be taken to a review page for the product. Here, there’s a sorting and filtering feature you can use to see only two-, three-, and four-star reviews.

So, this specimen here has around 100 reviews. The five-star reviews have lots of superlatives, exclamation points, the word “love,” and tales of family togetherness.

The one-star reviews seem a little more genuine, but generally angry, so let’s be fair and toss these out since we’re tossing out the five-star reviews as well.

By checking only the two-, three-, and four-star reviews, a pretty clear picture emerges within the first handful. This is a console for playing retro video games and just about every reviewer in the two- to four-star range complains about the game controllers feeling either cheaply made and/or not working with certain games.

So, there you have it: a decent retro console with unexceptional controllers. Probably not worth its $100 asking price.


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