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Now I know why, when I'm perusing Amazon.com reviews for a dress, I'll occasionally see a review that reads, "Wow, these pants fit perfectly!" or "I highly recommend this hand rake!"

My usual reaction to these has been, "OK, Einstein. You left your review about the rake on this page advertising a dress! Hello!"

Now, I see I may have made some false accusations. I knew there was such a thing as online sellers using fake positive reviews as a come-hither for their products. But, um ... deliberately stealing reviews from your fellow sellers' product pages and putting them on your page without even bothering to change the identity of the item?

Yyyyyyyep. Unfortunately, that's a thing, according to "Hijacked Reviews on Amazon Can Trick Shoppers." The recent Consumer Reports investigative piece by Jake Swearingen was brought to my attention via news release.

I got caught up in the wonderland of online shopping some time ago. I was especially attracted to Amazon, the Youtube of Retail: Just about anything you think you want, or aren't even sure exists, can be found there. As an Amazon shopper, I thought my biggest issue was finding the perfect frock, only to see that it runs in "Asian sizes" and that the 10X I'd need isn't offered.

But there's an even bigger issue: Some Amazon items may be overrated. Really overrated, according to Swearingen, who first noted in late 2017 that the product reviews didn't always match up with the product featured. A couple of months ago, he found that an iPhone adapter, rated highly enough to be designated an Amazon's Choice item, displayed glowing reviews for such items as "a coffee mug, an add-on for a computer motherboard and a device for blowing dust out of a computer keyboard." He emailed Amazon, whose folks assured him that the company didn't stand for that kind of stuff. Those reviews were taken down. But then, Swearingen saw more of such shenanigans. My favorite of his anecdotes: a posture correction brace that bore a review for "a wooden spanking paddle apparently meant for the bedroom." Which, apparently, somebody liked just fine.

Now I'd prided myself on my ability to tell fake reviews ("Very pretties! Much love!") from the authentic ones (reviewer posts photo of herself about to split the seams of the garment and remarks that "it fits like a dream!" tells how many compliments she got when she wore it, posts a photo demonstrating that the product arrived dirty, torn, broken or otherwise jacked up, uses earthy language, etc.). But as is pointed out in Swearingen's piece, bogus reviews may have been authentic at one time. As I've written quite a few reviews on Amazon, this makes me wonder if my five-star-rated review of that 1950s rockabilly dress appears on the page of some seller advertising mud flaps.

Sellers will even rip themselves off when it comes to reviews, according to the piece. A page offering one highly rated item one month may offer a totally different item the next ... and the sparkling reviews from the previous item will still be there, even if reviews for the new item indicate that one would be better off rolling homemade cigarettes with one's money.

Swearingen writes, "review hijackers also exploit Amazon's mechanism for letting companies list variations on their product ... [they] lump together reviews from entirely different products -- often from other sellers." So if that review for tires for your Porsche bears a positive review for tractor tires, beware!

The way to avoid being led down the garden path by hijacked reviews, according to the story:

• Read the reviews -- don't just go on the number of reviews and the average score. (Ah, well. So much for limiting one's item search to those that have received an average customer review of four stars and up.)

• Check out the bad reviews as well as the good ones. I do that, at least. Heck, bad reviews are like guilt-free gossip.

• Beware of reviews for different items. I hereby repent for blaming "ditzy Amazon customers" for those.

• Compare recent reviews with older reviews to see if the former are negative ... despite the item having more stars than Ret. Army Gen. Colin Powell.

Of course, if this whole tariff thing with President Trump and China plays out, all we'll be able to afford to do is read reviews, real or fake.

Emails for real:

hwilliams@arkansasonline.com

Style on 09/01/2019

Print Headline: Amazon's victim of a star-cross

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