I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the savviest person when it comes to shopping online. Sure, I can spot obvious scams without much work, I’ll sometimes spend hours poring over product reviews and still end up falling for products that faked their way to earning five stars. While I can’t stop shitty sellers from being shitty, I’ll download anything that might keep me from being conned.
Enter Fakespot, a new app for iOS and Android that promises to do exactly what the name suggests: spotting fake reviews from scammy sellers before they trick you into buying their products. The app’s creators have offered a scam-sniffing browser extension for a while now, the app is an update for the surging number of folks who might do their shopping from their smartphone. Right now, the app only supports shopping on Amazon’s mobile site — but it’s also working out updates for shopping at Walmart, eBay, BestBuy, and Sephora.
Browsing around on Amazon using Fakespot feels a lot like browsing through Amazon normally, but with two major perks. First, the app lets you know if the seller has been slammed with bad reviews both on the product you’re looking at, and across that seller’s entire catalogue. Second, if the product has pretty decent reviews, it lets you know how many of them might be fake.
Because I’m in the middle of shopping for a new couch right now — and because Amazon has an infinite buffet of couches for sale — I figured I’d use the app to see which sellers might be trying to swindle me. It didn’t take long.
While I thought that I’d found a decent-ish sofa with decent-ish ratings, apparently the app suspected that many of the product’s 4 and 5-star ratings might be phony. The startup behind the app — also named Fakespot — has said in the past that its scam sniffing capabilities come courtesy of an AI that’s been trained on 8 billion reviews across the web. When it comes to analysing a given review (or reviewer), the company says that it looks for questionable patterns that might hint at some fakery going on: iffy spelling or grammar, for example, or dozens of positive reviews being clustered together.
Granted, this is still a company that uses AI to analyse language, which means you should always take its analysis with a hefty grain of salt and check out a product’s reviews for yourself if you’re concerned about what you’re buying. But if you’re looking for a free tool to help you dodge the occasional con — and if you can stomach shopping on Amazon at all — you have nothing to lose.