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'Why I write fake online reviews'

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“I’ve learned never to rely on reviews for anything,” says Iain Taylor, from East Sussex.

In his spare time and to supplement his income, the 44-year-old writes fake online reviews in exchange for money and free products.

“I have written reviews from numbing creams to eBooks to downloadable independent films,” he says.

“I think it’s bad – but I think everyone’s doing it,” says Mr Taylor, describing himself as “cynical”.

“Since I started doing it I tell my family and friends not to trust reviews.

“If you are going to buy something you should do more research than look at a couple of five-star reviews on Amazon.”

He says writers are paid to buy the product and then leave a review, meaning the review can be verified.

‘Too focused on statistics’

Another person, a woman who preferred to remain anonymous, writes fake online reviews of the restaurant where she works – a chain pub in Nottingham.

“I feel like there’s significant pressure to get positive reviews on either Facebook, Google or TripAdvisor,” she says.

“The manager has actually told us to ask customers to do the review in front of us after their meals which I find hilarious.

“Anyway, I feel like it gets the managers off my back about it if I write a few for myself here and there. I do get a few genuine ones but a few more won’t hurt, eh?”

She adds: “I think it does make me look like a better employee, obviously.

“That said, even if my manager knew I was doing it he would most likely encourage it because the company is far too focused upon statistics and increasing profit than actual customer satisfaction.”

The murky world of fake online reviews hit headlines again on Tuesday, after consumer group Which? claimed that Amazon’s website is flooded with fake five-star reviews for products from unfamiliar brands.

Amazon said it was using automated technology to weed out false reviews and that it had invested “significant resources” to protect its review system “because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers”.

“Even one inauthentic review is one too many,” it added.

Online reviews are valuable to businesses. The government’s Competition and Markets Authority has estimated that such reviews potentially influence a mammoth £23bn of UK customer spending every year.

‘You can’t win’

One company, in Bingley, West Yorkshire has decided not to use review websites such as TrustPilot or Feefo because of the risk of competing with fake reviews.

Helena Gerwitz, head of marketing at Feature Radiators, says: “We work in a really niche industry.

“When new websites pop up, they might suddenly have 200 or so reviews. That’s a lot of reviews since we know they have only been going since last month.”

She believes the volume of the high-rated reviews that some competitors have cannot be legitimate.

Ms Gerwitz adds: “We have had chats about it – do we need to go down this route? – but my boss is very much ‘we don’t want to do that’. It’s unethical, it’s not true.

“We could set up a review account and know that we would do it legitimately but it would look bad as we wouldn’t pay people to put out reviews, so relative to the other sites we would look terrible.

“So we have decided not to do them but then people think there is something to hide. You can’t win. It’s really frustrating.”

‘Lose faith in online shopping’

Even verified reviews might not be all they seem. Some consumers fear their personal data might have been used by sellers to gather fake “verified reviews”.

Known as “brushing”, the scam sees sellers obtain people’s name and address to send the goods which they did not purchase.

On Amazon, this leaves a paper trail showing the goods had been bought on the site and had been delivered.

The seller then uses the individual’s details to set up a new account which it uses to post glowing reviews of its products.

Amazon says it is “investigating” complaints of “unsolicited packages” which would breach the company’s policy.

Architect Paul Bailey, from Billericay, in Essex believes he may have been targeted. Last month he received a number of unexpected “gifts”, including a key-ring, a phone case, a tattoo removal kit and a charcoal toothpaste set.

“I think when the first parcel arrived it was a case of bemusement, then I checked with my wife if she’d used my account to buy something.

“When the second item arrived later that day I thought it was perplexing but amusing. Then it became quite chilling.”

Mr Bailey says he cannot be sure where online sellers have obtained his data but says it has “made me lose faith in online shopping.”

He added: “We all know there are laws in place over how data is handled but it’s made me very, very nervous to the point I’m going shopping back on the High Street – even though it tends to be more expensive.”

A spokesman for Amazon added: “We have confirmed the sellers involved did not receive names or shipping addresses from Amazon.

“We remove sellers in violation of our policies, withhold payments, and work with law enforcement to take appropriate action.”

The psychology of online reviews

Nathalie Nahai, the author of Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, says online reviews work because people try to take an “effortless route” when they have to make decisions.

“When it comes to purchasing, especially for items which are easy to buy, we expect this level of convenience and ease,” she says.

“Part of that expectation is met by peer reviews… we can outsource our decision-making.”

“Above a certain threshold, people will go for a slightly lower rating,” Ms Nahai explains, citing a study where a product with more reviews but a 4.3 rating was more popular than the same product with fewer reviews and a 4.4.

Interestingly, she says there is “a certain leniency we give to bad reviews”.

“We tend to distrust perfect ratings because it looks too good to be true,” she says. “A five-star rating is less worthy than a 4.8 or 4.7.”

It could also be the order of the reviews that matters.

Consumer psychologist Cathrine Jansson says some sellers might be aware of what is known as the primacy and recency effects. These theories state that people tend to remember the first and last items in a series better than those in the middle.

“It’s the first five or six reviews that people tend to read and then if they’re really interested they’ll scroll to the last one.

“So some sellers will make sure it’s really good reviews at the top and that people see a really good one last.”

There are, however, many reasons why people will also post genuine online reviews, says Nisa Bayindir, a director of market research company Global Web Index.

“There are other key motivations at play. For example, we know that consumers buy products and brands that preserve, enhance or extend their self image.

“This dynamic comes alive with online reviews. People may leave genuine and positive reviews online to show appreciation and commitment to the brands that are in tune with their personalities and values.

“This of course includes the basics such as product quality, attentive customer services and good value for money. “

She says that brands should focus on “building credibility” but acknowledges that fake reviews may be around for cheaper goods for the foreseeable future.

She adds: “Sometimes people are just happy to pay a smaller amount of money for a mediocre experience.”

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Brighton meningitis amputee 'can even drive car'

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A man who almost died from meningitis has revealed how he began to look forward to having his limbs amputated.

Mike Davies, 60, from Brighton, spent 70 days in intensive care with meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.

During this time, he said he knew his hands and feet were “dead” and he would recover better without them.

Now he says he is in a positive place and “can even hold a pint of beer”.

With the help of prosthetic limbs, Mr Davies can drive a specially-adapted car and said he was living life to the full.

“My message to anyone who has amputations would be not to give up,” he said.

The illness struck on Christmas Eve in 2017 when he began to get “colder and colder”.

He said: “Climbing into bed didn’t help. I looked like a ghost with blue lips.”

His family insisted he went to Royal Sussex County Hospital.

In the early hours of Christmas Day, his wife Julie and son Rory were taken to a room and told he was unlikely to survive.

‘A lucky man’

“When they held my hand, I could not feel it. My hands and feet were dying,” he said.

During 10 weeks in hospital “on the edge of survival”, he knew his limbs had to go.

“I began to look forward to having my hands and feet amputated

“I was on a lot of medication and I was very accepting that they needed to go for me to make a recovery” he said.

He spent two and a half months at Queen Mary’s University Hospital, Roehampton, learning to walk on prosthetic legs.

Since then, he has “walked three miles”, can feed himself, using cutlery strapped to his arms, and can “even hold a pint of beer”.

“I feel in quite a positive place in my mind about the challenges I still have to overcome.

“Support from other people has been key. I am a lucky man,” he said.

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Kai Gasson jailed for Crawley street stabbing murder

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A teenager who stabbed a man to death in a street has been jailed for life.

Kai Gasson, 17, had denied the murder of Arnold Potter in Crawley but was convicted and ordered to serve at least 15 years.

Reporting restrictions were lifted at Lewes Crown Court so unemployed Gasson, who lived in Crawley, could be named.

Mr Potter, 24, died in Watson Close, Maidenbower, on 15 November after he was wounded in the torso with a lock knife.

After the hearing, Det Ch Insp Andy Richardson said Gasson “rightly” faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars after the jury rejected his claim that he acted in self-defence after a row about drugs.

“Had Gasson not been in possession of a knife that day, he would not have stabbed anyone and he would not now be facing a sentence,” he said.

“We must continue to educate people – particularly young people – that carrying offensive weapons in public is a serious offence which ruins lives.”

Gasson was also found guilty of possessing a knife and admitted possessing cocaine with intent to supply.

After the court case, a family tribute issued through police said Mr Potter was a caring, kind-hearted man who had been loved by many.

The family said: “Please educate your children about knife crime, as it impacts every member of your family.

“Life goes on, but life will never be the same again for us.”

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Child held near cliff edge at Seven Sisters prompts warning

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The National Trust has warned people to “act sensibly” after pictures emerged of a man holding a child inches from an unstable cliff edge.

The pair were pictured on Monday at Seven Sisters near Eastbourne, East Sussex.

In 2017, 50,000 tonnes of the cliff crumbled and fell to the beach below.

The following day a 23-year-old South Korean tourist fell to her death when she jumped in the air for a picture and lost her footing on the edge.

Others were also seen near the edge and the Trust spokeswoman said: “It isn’t safe to stand or sit on the cliff edge.

“The cliffs are unstable in places and there are undercuts in the chalk, which people may be unaware of from the top.

“We advise visitors to act sensibly.”

There are permanent signs in place warning people of the danger.

MP for Lewes Maria Caulfield said the warm weather made an “ideal time to visit the coast”. However, she said it was “disappointing and concerning” to see people on the edge or “dangling children on the edge”.

“We know how dangerous those cliff edges are. We know people have been injured, and we’ve had tragic loss of life in the past.”

Ms Caulfield said she will speak to local councils on how to tackle the safety issues in future.

Previously, some have criticised the signage for not standing out, and there have been calls for signs in foreign languages as tourism from the Far East increases.

Ms Caulfield said: “It’s a difficult balance… if you put too much fencing or signage you destroy the beauty of the place.

“But it’s clear, despite the efforts of the local councils, the signs that are there are not enough to deter people from going close to the cliff edge.”

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