Online reviews can help identify the best and worst products, but they can also be deceptive. The fact is, not every review can be trusted -- some are downright fake.

A heating and air conditioning company based in Marietta, Ga., is now on the hook for $1.3 million for posting bogus reviews and more in a case that was overseen by the state's attorney general.

Mechanic's Heating & Air Conditioning LLC and its owner, Monty White Jr., posted fake reviews on websites like Yelp, Kudzu and others. The company's owner also conducted online smear campaigns against customers who complained about Mechanic's Heating & Air Conditioning to the BBB or state regulatory agencies.

Read more: Fake package tracking notification could be malware

Fake online reviews are a real problem

How can you tell the scam reviews from the real ones? There's no sure way, but there are a few things you can look for:

  • Spot the easy red flags. One easy way to get a feel for whether or not you're reading a legit review is to read a poster's reviews of businesses, products, or services other than just the one you're looking for. If they use the same cut-and-paste language in every review, you have an indication that they may be a paid reviewer putting out false information.
  • Look for at least 2 dozen reviews for a given business. You want to see a lot of opinions before you can know that there's a credible trend happening. A handful of stray reviews won't cut it. Generally, at least 2 dozen reviews is a good guideline.
  • Throw out the excessively positive and negative.  Let's face it: There are people who will find something to be grumpy about no matter what. And others love life and always write in superlatives. But over time, you can glean the collective wisdom. If every single review you read about a business is glowing, or every single one is negative, then you know something's wrong.
  • Know the special considerations for travel reviews. is a great site for hotel reviews, but again you've got to be careful. As Clark says, "I don't pay attention to any reviews written by British people because they aren't accustomed to our hotels and indiscriminately love everything. Ditto for New Yorkers who are used to cramped conditions and think any room is spacious even if it's the size of a shoebox. Nor do I pay any attention to whiners about room service. I never order room service! What I am looking for is the preponderance of opinion."

So, in the end, you have to use your best judgment when looking over consumer opinions. Look for lots of reviews, and check out several review sites before deciding, not just one.

Read more: Warning: Don't fall for these Facebook 'dislike' button scams!

For more money-saving advice, see our Scams and Ripoffs section.


Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust. View More Articles

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