Reviews can be useful or may be an attempt to mislead when buying online. / sur

Could this be the end for fake reviews of items bought online?

The law in Spain has changed, and companies now have to confirm whether the people who leave comments about their goods or services are genuine customers. Attempts to mislead could lead to huge fines

ISABEL MÉNDEZ Malaga

The Spanish law to protect consumer rights and regulate competition has now been modified so that businesses have to indicate whether, if somebody leaves a review of their product or service, they have actually bought or used it.

Companies that fail to comply will be considered as behaving unfairly with the intention to mislead, and can face fines of up to one million euros for very serious cases or up to eight times the profit they have obtained from the infringement when it is committed in Spain, and up to 4% of their turnover when the infringements take place in several EU countries.

How to detect fake reviews

When purchasing online, as it is not possible to see the product, the opinions of others who have bought the items can be very helpful. The same occurs with restaurants and travel companies who advertise online: the reviews left by people who have tried them can make all the difference when deciding whether to go ahead or not. But how can you tell whether an opinion is real, or there is some hidden interest behind it, or if it is just mischief-making?

The Consumers Organisation has issued a series of recommendations to help people to avoid being misled. This is what to look out for:

- There are comments which are not accompanied by a “verified purchase” confirmation from the business. In this case, it is not possible to be sure whether the person leaving a review has actually bought the product or used the service.

- The opinions include a lot of photos or videos. It is suspicious if so much effort is made to promote a product which supposedly has so many satisfied buyers already.

- The most positive opinions are the oldest. Organise the comments in date order and see whether the positive opinions were posted around the same dates.

- If an opinion about a product is particularly effusive in its praise, check the profile of the person who has left the comment and see if they have done the same for other products or services which are not well-known; sometimes it will look as if they have bought several products of the same type.

- Be wary if the graph of evaluations for the product or service is in the shape of a C. In other words, there are a lot of very good reviews, but here are also quite a few negative ones.