Beware of False Advertising

Consumers Should be Wary and Smart When Shopping Online

by Jenzl Guerrero, age 17

            Shoppers want to be well aware of which products are good and which ones are bad. It’s easy to tell when you visit a store and examine it for yourself, but it gets much trickier online. Experts say some online reviews are not actually consumer opinions, but are for-hire endorsements or promotional material.
            Jeff Hancock, a psychologist and associate professor at Cornell, conducted a study that estimated five percent of all online product reviews are planted by companies to evaluate products to their own benefit.
            In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, took up two cases dealing with deceptive advertising and fake reviews. Both ended with charges.
            The Nashville-based Legacy Learning Systems was charged with using affiliated marketers to falsely pose as independent reviewers in order to advertise their guitar lesson DVDs in a positive light.
            In the other case, employees of Reverb, a public relations firm hired by video game developers, posted fake reviews to the iTunes store.
            Mary Engle, the director of the FTC’s division of advertising practices, encourages people to be cautious. When looking up reviews that say they have viewed different products, but conclude that only one is fit for selection, be suspicious. She says that the most extreme comments should be viewed carefully as well.
Since online shopping has become popular, businesses are using it as an opportunity to increase sales and to make their products appear worthwhile. Unfortunately, not all product reviews can be trusted and the internet is not always safe.

[Source: USA TODAY]