A competitor is buying fake 5-star reviews. What should I do?

Reading Time:

Given how critical ratings are for a local business, it’s not surprising that some businesses buy fake reviews to boost their rating. Let’s walk through the possible actions you could take.

It can be infuriating to see a competitor get an unusual number of generic-sounding 5-star reviews while you work hard to earn every one you receive. This happens far more often than it should.

Detecting Fake Reviews

It’s usually not difficult to spot a fake review. Here are some signs to look for:

  • The review is generic. Any details provided are often incorrect. In the example shown, this business has a view of a parking lot (not exactly “stunning!”). The term “bucket list” appears with surprising frequency.
  • The review’s profile does not include a picture. Or if it does, a reverse image search often shows it’s a stock photo.
  • The reviewer has a low number of reviews. When you try to look at their other reviews, they’re usually blocked from view. In the rare case they’re visible, they’re typically for businesses in random parts of the country or around the world. Those reviews will be for motel chains, low-end chain restaurants, home repair services, etc. —all poorly run businesses that need to pay to boost their ratings.
  • There is a regular pattern of when new 5-star reviews are posted. For example, a new review will be posted around the same time every day for a week or more. The business typically buys enough fake reviews to boost the overall rating to a specific level (3.9 to 4.2, for example), and then the fake reviews stop until real reviews bring the rating back down.

Given how easy it is to spot fake reviews, it’s surprising review sites do such a poor job removing them using AI or a simple manual review — at least for the most obvious fakes.

Potential Actions to Take

The bottom line is that there’s not much you can do about this. Let’s walk through some actions you could take (but should not):

  • Report the Competitor to the FTC. Fake reviews are illegal and the FTC can impose fines of $50,000+ per review. There are a few examples of the Consumer Review Fairness Act being enforced, but they’re rare. In addition, the process of filing a report takes time. It’s rarely worth the effort.
  • Public Shaming. Using social media or other means, you could call out the competitor for their shady business practices. However, be aware that a business that buys 5-star reviews for itself knows exactly how to buy 1-star reviews for your business. It’s definitely not worth it.
  • Posting a 1-Star Review. While it’s tempting to offset their fake 5-star reviews with a real 1-star review, this violates the “conflict of interest” rule that all review sites have in place. Not only is it likely this review will be quickly removed, you’re also making your business a target for retaliation (see above).
  • Flag Fake Reviews as ‘Not Helpful’. Some review sites (including Google) allow you to flag a review as “Not Helpful”, which might increase the likelihood the review will be removed or at least given less visibility. However, this would be time-consuming, and time is a limited resource.

What You Should Do

Do nothing. Focus on making your business great.

Local businesses that buy fake reviews will likely fail. If they were well-run companies, they would listen to customer feedback and find ways to improve. Instead, they’re spending their limited financial resources trying to cover their flaws. They’re looking for a quick fix rather than doing the hard work. There are no shortcuts to small business success.

Also, people are starting to become more savvy about fake reviews. Once word starts getting around that they’re doing this (especially in small towns), the business’s reputation will be tarnished forever.

Just let this play out instead of allowing it to become a distraction from focusing on your own business’s success.

Next Up: Is it appropriate to solicit 5-star reviews for my business?