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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.”

Read this and more articles at BBC Sussex

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Valerie Graves: Murder-accused Cristian Sabou appears in court

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A man accused of murdering a woman found bludgeoned to death in her bed almost six years ago has appeared in court.

Valerie Graves, 55, was found dead at a property in Smugglers Lane, Bosham, West Sussex, on 30 December 2013.

Cristian Sabou, 27, was charged with her murder after being extradited from Dej, north-west Romania, last week.

He did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody after a hearing at Lewes Crown Court.

Ms Graves, an artist, was house-sitting with her mother at the £1.6m seaside property when she was killed.

A post-mortem examination found she had died from severe head injuries after being hit with a claw hammer.

Mr Sabou is next due to appear at Lewes Crown Court on 30 September.

Judge Katherine Laing QC scheduled a provisional trial date of 6 January and told Mr Sabou he would be expected to enter a plea at his next hearing.

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Murder charge after woman found strangled in Bexhill flat

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A man has been charged with murdering a woman who was found strangled in a flat in East Sussex.

Kayleigh Hanks, 29, was found after police were called to a disturbance at a flat in London Road, Bexhill at about 00:30 BST on Sunday.

Ian Paton, 36, of Snowdrop Rise, St Leonards, has been charged with her murder and is due to appear at Brighton Magistrates’ Court later.

Both people were known to each other, a Sussex Police spokesman said.

A post-mortem examination carried out on Monday confirmed Ms Hanks had died as a result of strangulation.

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Heatwave: How to keep cool and carry on in 35C

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With a heatwave predicted to bring temperatures above 35C to parts of the UK over the next few days, how can the nation keep cool and carry on?

Do I have to work during a heatwave?

For those hoping to be given a day off, unfortunately, there are currently no laws in the UK about when it is too hot to work.

Employers should provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says a limit cannot be introduced because some industries have to work in high temperatures.

It can, however, be too cold to work. Government guidance recommends a minimum working temperature of 16C (61F), or 13C, if employees are doing physical work.

As avoiding work in the heat isn’t an option, then there’s the inevitable dilemma of what to wear.

But can you wear flip-flops to work? Read what the experts have to say.

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How do you sleep?

That’s the million dollar question. On sticky nights, drifting off can seem impossible.

A big part of the problem is humidity, which makes it hard for sweat to evaporate.

To try and keep your bedroom as cool as possible, shut your blinds or curtains during the day – although doing so with metallic blinds and dark curtains could make the room hotter.

You could also open windows on the shady side of your home and close them on the sunny side – and then open all the windows before going to bed to get a through breeze.

That’s not an option open to everyone, so an electric fan can be a handy substitute.

A fan will help move the air around your body and increase the chance of sweat evaporating.

Other recommendations include:

  • Putting reflective material or shades outside bedroom windows
  • Having a lukewarm shower before bed
  • Using thin cotton sheets
  • Wearing lightweight materials for bed as they can keep you cooler – as can sleeping naked and avoiding sharing space with partners
  • Putting your sheets in the freezer for a spell before you go to bed

When it comes to children, the NHS says a cool bath before bedtime can help.

Pyjamas and bedclothes should be kept to a minimum, and if a baby kicks off its bedcovers during the night then they could sleep in just a nappy – babies sleep most comfortably when their room is between 16C (61F) and 20C (68F).

What should you wear?

Dressing for the weather may sound obvious, but clothes can make a real difference to how our bodies handle heat.

As tempting as it might be to strip off, you may be at greater risk of sunburn which can affect your body’s ability to cool itself.

It’s best to choose light colours over dark – which can attract and retain heat – and loose garments that can allow air to get in.

Hats with ventilation will also help and fabric choice is key – materials like cotton and linen are more breathable, absorbing sweat and encouraging ventilation.

Any advice on what to eat and drink?

Hydration is key. Our bodies sweat more in hot weather, so it is really important to restock lost water levels.

Don’t rely on your physical thirst to judge how dehydrated you are as it’s not a very good indicator (urine colour is better), so you should try to drink plenty before you feel parched.

And try not to consume too much alcohol. The NHS says good drink options include water, lower-fat milks and tea and coffee.

Foods with high water content such as strawberries, cucumber, courgette, lettuce, celery and melon can also help you stay hydrated.

Try to avoid large, heavy meals laden with carbohydrates and protein because they take more digesting, which in turn produces more body heat.

Although it may not be what you fancy on sweaty days, scientific research suggests spicy and hot foods can actually help cool you down.

How do you keep babies cool?

As if you don’t have enough to think about with a baby, a heatwave brings an added risk of dehydration, sunburn and sunstroke.

The NHS recommends keeping all babies under six months out of direct sunlight, and older infants should be kept out of the sun as much as possible, particularly between 11:00 and 15:00.

They should be kept in the shade or under a sunshade if they’re in a buggy or pushchair.

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Sun cream with a high sun protection factor should be applied regularly – particularly if children are in water.

All children should be given plenty of fluids and the NHS says babies who are being breastfed may want to feed more than usual, but will not need water as well as breast milk.

If they are bottle feeding, babies can be given cooled boiled water as well as their usual milk feeds.

What about pets?

Dogs in particular struggle in the hot weather because they are not able to cool down through sweating, as humans do, and those breeds with long coats are especially prone to overheating.

The RSPCA has a series of tips for keeping animals safe and comfortable during the heatwave.

These include avoiding leaving animals in hot cars, conservatories, outbuildings or caravans, which, even just for a short while, can be fatal due to rising temperatures.

It also says it is best to walk a dog early in the morning or late in the evening when it is cooler, as paws can burn on a hot pavement. Exercise can also increase the risk of heatstroke.

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For those pets kept in cages, hutches, fish tanks or other enclosures, they should be kept out of direct sunlight.

And it’s not just humans who need sun cream, it might also be beneficial to apply some to your pet.

Animals’ exposed spots, such as ears and noses, are vulnerable to sunburn and – just like people – sun damage can lead to skin cancer.

The Blue Cross say white cats are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer from sunlight exposure than others.

What are symptoms of heatstroke?

Most people in the UK aren’t used to such extreme temperatures, which can cause heat exhaustion and, more seriously, heatstroke.

Signs of heat exhaustion can include tiredness or weakness, feeling faint or dizzy, having muscle cramps or feeling sick. If left untreated, the more serious symptoms of heatstroke can develop, including confusion, disorientation and even a loss of consciousness.

Those suffering the signs of heat exhaustion should go to a cool place with air conditioning or shade, use a cool, wet sponge or flannel and drink fluids – ideally water, fruit juice or a rehydration drink, such as a sports drink.

Those most vulnerable include the elderly, people with conditions such as diabetes, young children and people working or exercising outdoors.

Can I exercise during a heatwave?

If you choose to exercise, listen to your body – it will be under greater strain than in usual conditions so your usual limits may be different.

Aim to do it when the weather is at its coolest: early or late in the day.

If you do intensive exercise, drink lots of water. Isotonic sports drinks can also help ensure you are rehydrating properly.

Cold showers and blotting with damp, cold materials can also work wonders.

In general, stay in the shade or in air-conditioned places as much as possible, especially at the hottest part of the day.

How long does it take to burn?

The risk of sunburn depends on how sensitive your skin is, and how strong the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are.

The UV index will vary, depending on where you are in the world, the time of year, what the weather is like, the time of day, and how high up you are compared to sea level.

During the UK’s summer months, the sun’s UV rays are strongest between 11:00 and 15:00.

Cancer Research UK suggests using a simple “shadow rule” to estimate the strength of the sun.

It suggests that if your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun’s UV rays are strong – and you are therefore more likely to burn.

How often should you reapply sun cream?

There are lots of “extended wear” sunscreens on the market that advertise themselves as being for use “once a day”, or claiming to last for eight hours.

But dermatologists recommend that these products should still be applied at least every two hours, like any other sunscreen, since the risk that you may have missed a spot – or that it will rub or wash off in that time – are too high.

The British Association of Dermatologists says sunscreen with SPF 30 is a “satisfactory form of sun protection in addition to protective shade and clothing” and that it should be reapplied at least every two hours, no matter what SPF it is.

There are lots of places that rate sunscreen brands, including consumer website Which?.

However, the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) says in general you should look for two ratings on bottles of sun creams.

The sun emits two types of ultraviolet rays – UVA (most commonly responsible for premature ageing and wrinkles) and UVB (which causes most sunburn).

The BAD says you need to be protected from both.

The sun protection factor (SPF) offers guidance on a cream’s protection against UVB rays, while a star system indicates the level of protection against UVA rays.

Read this and more articles at BBC Sussex

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