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Ask Sid

Are Online Product Reviews Legit?

It's tough to tell. Here are some clues to get the truth

Q. I often read reviews online before I buy products or make travel plans. How can I tell if they're legit or were planted on websites to increase sales?

A. It can be tough, but typically the more reviews a product has, the more reliable the feedback, good or bad.

See also: Shop smart for tech products.

Where you read it also matters. You can generally expect a higher level of authenticity at high-volume sites like Amazon; Buzzillions, which collects reviews from retailers who have asked purchasers to review products; CNET, which specializes in tech products, and of course, Consumer Reports, which routinely surveys its subscribers about their experiences in addition to doing its own product testing.

Epinions is another go-to site, but you should realize that the site pays some of its reviewers (based on how often their comments guide readers' buying decisions, Epinions says).

For product and company gripes from especially dissatisfied people, good sources include ComplaintsBoard and My3Cents.

Be suspicious when praise is over-the-top ("This is the best product ever made!") and when words such as "easy," "fast results" or "amazing" are overused. Obviously, too-good-to-be-true promises — such as making $1,000 a day after buying a kit that helps you work from home — are just that.

Also be wary of first-name-only posts ("Bob," "Sue"), monikers with a company name ("MeLoveAcme"), or frequent misspellings and grammatical errors, which suggest a too-busy paid reviewer.

Recent research at Cornell University shows that fake reviews of Chicago hotels tended to have more verbs and contain more scene-setting language, frequently using words such as "vacation," "business" or "my husband."

Conversely, truth-tellers tend to use more nouns and concrete words to describe facilities, features or service, such as "bathroom," "check-in" and "price."

Also of interest: Sell that old smartphone. >>

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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