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Whether you need to find a motel in Winnipeg that doesn't reek of despair (good luck!) or track down the cheapest possible Chinese food in El Paso, internet reviewers have got your back. But some businesses have become so desperate for that elusive fifth star that they're paying for positive reviews online, a crime filthier than the rats running around that El Paso Chinese place. We spoke with Jessica Carson, a paid online reviewer, and she told us ...

5
You Can't Just Jump In And Start Leaving Fake Reviews

Chris Goodney / Bloomberg / Getty Images

So you want to start a career by ruining the internet for everybody else. That's fine. But how do you get into paid reviewing? The same way you get into crack orgies and the trunk of somebody's car: Craigslist. Businesses will often post review gigs there, or if you're feeling more proactive you can advertise your own services on places like Fiverr.

Fiverr
It's like exposure, only even more insulting.

But first you're going to need a solid track record of legitimate-looking reviews (usually upwards of 50) attached to whatever social media account you're using, which must also carry a good number of followers. The reviews can't just all be five stars, or else Yelp or Google can tell you're a shill. In short, you need to build up some trust before you betray it for cash. On my two Yelp accounts and my Google account, I'd make sure there were a few hundred varied reviews visible on my profile at any given moment.

But you have to be careful: Yelp protects the identities of its reviewers to the steps of the state Supreme Court if need be, but Amazon will sue the pants off of users posting fake reviews. You basically have to do a few months' worth of unpaid work before you can even start looking for work, which is pretty much the case for all college graduates nowadays.

Craigslist
Only the truly battle-tested can handle the pressure of telling the world you liked the ravioli.

4
Getting Away With A Fake Review Is Harder Than You Think

scyther5 / iStock

Most sites are seriously clamping down on bogus reviews. Say Sally goes to comment about how great the pizza shop she works at is, but uses her actual Facebook profile to do so -- the one where she lists her place of employment. Google or Yelp will snatch that up immediately. Timeliness is also a factor. If a place is looking iffy, then a bunch of people leave five-star reviews within a day or so of each other, it's pretty obvious what just happened -- that business really got its act together!

But no, it's probably employees being forced to review their own establishment.

Yelp
Those who didn't were forced to eat the burrito.

Businesses have even tried strong-arming folks into leaving a good review while they're still in the store, a practice Google and TripAdvisor have had to address. One Austin-area storage facility found itself in hot water after a well-known podcaster blew the whistle on their bogus reviews. I worked with two businesses myself who badgered customers for positive reviews in-store, only to find the reviews changed when those customers got home. The manager of a hardware store that hired me begged customers for good online reviews, and they'd smile and nod, then go home to complain about the guy pestering them while they innocently shopped for bolt-cutters and good, strong rope.

A few years ago Google and Yelp just deleted fake reviews or, at worst, banned you. Now, it's getting more serious: Yelp has sued over fake (negative) reviews, and Amazon has actually entered into court battles with over 1,000 different negative reviewers. Even Google, the Thunderdome of review authenticity, finally started cracking down. They use a program called Fakespot (hey, you can use it too!) that can identify fake reviewers with pretty good accuracy and then presumably fire lasers into their eyes.

Fakespot
The end of innocence sounds exactly like the goddamn bed sheet industry going rogue.

In some states, like New York, fake reviews are against the law. One delightful idiot lost about $8,000 reviewing a restaurant that hadn't even opened yet. Luckily, there's still TripAdvisor, where it's insanely easy to post fake anything with zero consequences. But be careful: You might find out (to the tune of a five-figure lawsuit) why it's a bad idea to complain about your hotel online.

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3
You Might Not Even Get Paid

Mumemories / iStock

Maybe four out of every five businesses actually paid me. I'd post a review, they'd send money through PayPal, and that's the end of it. Usually between $10 and $25 per review, but you have to space it out. I tried to do three restaurants and two services a week from all of my accounts, but most weeks only managed two in total. You can't exactly make a living on it, but it brought in nice side money. I got as much as $200 a week, and one car-detailing place gave me $50.

The problem is that you're not always paid in cash.

A university textbook store offered me 50 percent off any book instead of cash. A garage offered me 50 percent off an oil change if I would raise their star rating. The craziest one was from a Chinese restaurant that said I could come in after they closed and take as many leftovers as I could carry. I guess they thought I was poor and desperate. Or maybe just high? Regardless, I didn't take it.

Kevin Russ / iStock
I'm not giving you five stars in exchange for five hours on the can.

I did take one restaurant up on their offer for a free salad in exchange for a good review. They only had two customers in that day, including me. Before I left, I overheard that he was only there for the "five-star salad" too.

2
It Takes Only One Mistake To Tank Your Whole Account

Yelp

Some fake reviewers are easy to spot: If they don't have a profile picture, that's a red flag. If someone is actually eating at 12 different restaurants a week and leaving reviews for all of them, they're either going through a really rough time in their personal life or it's a fake account. Finally, keep an eye out for the stars themselves. If a place has all five stars, there's a good chance they're not only fake but also that they suck at this.

Amazon
Nobody's so hard-up for entertainment that glow-in-the-dark cable cords rock their world.

The closest I've ever come to getting outed was the time I had to write a review of a restaurant's buffalo chicken pizza -- specifically mentioning how great it was that this joint used barbecue sauce instead of pizza sauce. What a revelation!

Businesses often go into review sections with the sole intention of promoting something. If you see a dozen reviews in a row mentioning the same product or service, there's a good chance that the place paid for those reviews, trying to hype their new buffalo chicken milkshake ("It's got barbecue sauce instead of milk!") or something. But every single other review was about how awful that particular pizza was. It's highly unlikely that I was just a giant fan of food poisoning, so people caught on, and I panicked when folks started asking if I was a plant. I've seen other paid reviewers get banned for less than that.

Yelp
If you're full of shit, don't be surprised if you get flushed.

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1
Yes, There Is Such A Thing As A Paid Negative Review

Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

Most people pay for positive reviews only, but occasionally you'll get an offer to leave a bad one. I was once offered $20 to write a nasty review for a restaurant, highlighting one waitress in particular. This guy was probably just a bitter ex, trying to get her fired. I did not take that assignment.

Here's the issue, though: A positive fake review can mostly be ignored, but a scathing negative one can set off a firestorm. Some businesses will actively go after you. Sometimes they can comb through their records to prove you were never there, especially if your account has your real name. It's simply not worth the money (which is usually about the same as the pay for a good review) or the hassle.

trevely / Reddit
They'll also sue you for real reviews that call other reviews fake. Unless you gave four stars when writing it.

I tried to skate under the radar: Most of my reviews were four-star, with some threes and fives mixed in for good measure. Algorithms like the ones Yelp and Google use to sniff out fake reviewers have a hard time finding me, and that's something that took a while to build up. Leaving an excessively bad review just for a quick $20 might set them on my accounts, and then it's months of work down the crapper. Right next to that free salad and "armload" of Chinese food.

Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, writer, and interview finder guy for the PE team at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience you would like to tell us about? Hit us up at tips@cracked.com today!

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