Don’t trust everything you read in online reviews! That’s the message from a growing number of experts, who say we’re relying on consumer reviews more than ever before. In fact, visits to review sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Angie’s List are up an average of 33 percent in the past year! But before you trust another five-star review, there are a few things you need to know:

  • Almost 1-in-3 online reviews are FAKE! That’s according to a new study from the University of Illinois, which found that many companies pay people to write consumer reviews – even if they’ve never used the product or service they’re writing about. Also, some business owners get their family and friends to write glowing reviews, while writing bad reviews about competitors! What are the most obvious clues that a review is fake? Researchers say a big red flag is if the review’s loaded with technical specifications, like it’s coming out of a brochure. Or if the review offers access to coupon codes, or special discounts. In real reviews, people tend to express more opinions.

  • More stars don’t mean you get a better product. For example: A new study shows that 80 percent of the reviews on Amazon give products four or more stars! Experts say it’s because the people most likely to write reviews are either people who had a bad experience, and want to complain – or they had such a good experience, that they want to rave about it! That’s why you’ll rarely see so-so 3-star reviews.

  • The number of stars does matter – just NOT to consumers. Because a Harvard study found that for every one-star increase companies get over their competitors, it translates into an extra 10 percent jump in sales.