Friday, November 28, 2014

Reviewing customer feedback online - how trustworthy is it?

I always prefer to give scam advice that gets people thinking about motivations of others as I feel this is what ultimately protects against any scam, although it is not foolproof.  But I decided to write some practical ways of checking if good reviews online are what they say they are.  This list is in no way exhaustive but I thought it may give you some pointers what is good to do before you decide to trust someone/something online. I have already written a post about how feedback on websites can be faked so let’s expand on that across other websites. 

Online recommendations and reviews
Word of mouth is one of the best advertisements one could ever have. I am sure you have heard this one before and with the internet, word of mouth has been transformed into feedback. Often, sites will have options for reviews that customers can leave but how reliable are they?  I generally take online reviews with a pinch of salt.  Some websites are better than others.  Retailers like John Lewis or Ocado fair better at publishing honest reviews because it is in their interest to see if the chosen products sell.  However, this is not foolproof as the manufacturers often have marketing teams that work hard on promoting products and sometimes this means playing dirty – like leaving reviews that are not from ordinary customers.  So what can you do?  Read negative reviews first and then read the positives. Click on the username of people leaving positive reviews.  This is handy as it will show you other reviews they left.  If they just left the reviews for that product or just that brand, disregard it.  You may be disregarding an odd honest review but generally people fall in two categories; those that love leaving reviews – these will have left reviews for other products they bought and those that only leave reviews when they are unhappy. 

If you are reading great reviews on the website that only sells their own brands, think very hard about who gets to choose which reviews go up before you trust them.  What you can do in that case is to reference the product you want to read a review for in Google and other, independent sites will come up.  You will notice that often products that are rated excellent on the original website will be rated lower on sites like Make up Alley or Google reviews.  Always look for independent feedback.

Hiring a good workman
The feedback sites like MyBuilder, Checkatrade, Rated people and so on are extremely popular as they allow customers to see feedback from other customers.  But it pays to be careful despite this.  I found few loopholes that can be abused.  For example, what is stopping any tradesman impersonating a customer?  Or their friends and family leaving a review where details are asked of you before you post a review.  What you can do is click, again, on any usernames that left them feedback and see if they have hired other people from the site.  If they haven’t, disregard that review.  Again, you may make a mistake and disregard the good review but better to be safe than sorry, in my opinion.
Finally, put the name of the company in the Google and really give it a go at looking at everything that pops up. Sometimes information about previous companies they had pops up for free.  If they have had several companies in the past few years, this might be telling you something.  But please remember, information on Companieshouse, for example, is not checked by the government.  I have heard of a case where a scammer set up a fictitious company up there with false details and identities to add to their credibility.  It is good to check stuff like that but also cross reference it.  Often, putting the phone number and the address the person gives in the Google by itself might give you a clue if the information lines up.  If there is a discrepancy, it could be that the person is dishonest or they are hiding something.  I tend to walk away from those.

I will give you a solid example.  Recently someone I know had a bad experience with the dentist overcharging.  Simple Google unearthed a good review by a satisfied customer.  Cross referencing the person leaving the review, I saw that he left a review for all their branches and that he is a website developer by profession (probably hired by them).  He probably did not have dental treatment in all of their 4 branches.  Often, someone who is unhappy with a certain company will discuss it somewhere.  I find that very good information is to be found on Forums too, however, again it is not foolproof.  If someone is gushing about a particular company, check what else they have posted.  Scammers often will do some stuff to add credibility but they don’t have unlimited resources so there will be tell tale signs if you invest the time.

It pays to cross reference things in Google before you decide to trust someone you have never met.  I also cross reference people’s mobile phones.  If I cannot find it online, I am a bit more cautious.  A good tradesman will have a phone number listed somewhere and he will not need to change it.  I also cross reference emails. This is a useful tool to use in Facebook as scammers often have several emails.  If you cross reference the email address in Facebook and someone else pops up, chances are this person is not honest.  It takes a bit of time but it can save you a lost of grief in the long run.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Is lack of time making us vulnerable to scams?

"In my day..." is something I hear a lot of from very old people and the sentence usually ends with something that the very old people had that we as a society no longer have and one of those things is TIME. Time has become a commodity, a resource that many of us just don't have. We now work longer hours, chauffeur our kids to and from numerous parties and activities, keep up with social media and so on. And we commute to and from work.  And despite the fact that we are have less time, the world is getting more complicated.  Once upon a time, you might have come across a skilled scammer, someone who could 'sell ice to Eskimos', someone who would make you buy something for way more money than it was worth.  That scammer had to knock on your door or intercept you somehow to offer you this deal and this was a precarious work for the scammer as they would have to invest their time, which may or may not pay off. 

But now, you only have to log on to your email to encounter numerous scammers that are out to get you in the moment of irrationality, moment of weakness, that moment of wandering attention.  And they don't need to invest a lot of time to do it.  In other words, scammers have managed to cut the time it takes them to scam you and we have less time to evaluate offers and information we are presented with.  If you are buying something online you probably have to wade through lengthy terms and conditions that take an hour to read, generous updates to existing terms and conditions that you have already read and absorbed (such as PayPal updates) so on. Often there is just not enough time and this lack of time makes us vulnerable to scams.  Often, investing just a bit more time into looking for clues of authenticity in an email or a website can make us suspicious.  But time has become like a currency.  Because sometimes it is in short supply, some people report making rational decisions to risk money in certain situations where they are not completely sure that the website is legitimate.  In other words, they feel the time they would have to invest to read all the information out there is not worth the amount they are spending. 

This fact is known to scammers who often inundate their websites with information, making you more likely to engage in peripheral route of processing (skimming rather than reading carefully and thinking about the information). And many keep the amount low enough to make it insignificant to you so you will not spend too much time evaluating the information.  

Often, companies engaging, shall we say in shady or unethical practices, use this tactic. The small print is out there but there is so much to read that it is lost somewhere in other persuasive methods, such as testimonials from people (often fake), shiny graphics and useless scientific data that is rarely followed up by the buyer and often not even correct.  How many of us have the time to Google the ingredients to that slimming product, or that magic anti ageing cream or a miracle cure for cancer?  But if we did invest the time to gain the relevant knowledge, we would find that often this would be enough to save us from being scammed by these companies.  The same goes for real scammers, the people who will take your money and not give you anything for that, i.e. they will just run away with your money, change the website and scam another person tomorrow. 

There is no easy advice here.  Optimally, all of us would be motivated enough to want to read and know as much as we can about things that go on in our lives but sometimes that motivation is just not there.  And time seems to be one reason for that.  But that extra half an hour verifying information you are reading might just save you some money in the end.