A study based on 10 years of reviews indicates up to 47% of home service contractors in some work categories may be using fake online reviews to attract homeowners. The startling revelation comes at a time when home improvement disputes and problems continue to dominate the consumer complaints received in Canada.
The findings were released by TrustedPros Inc. after analyzing the customer review data collected by TrustedPros.ca since 2004. The home improvement and contractor review website employs a validation team that closely screens each review after it is submitted, making sure that it's not posted by the contractor themselves, their family, friends, or employees. Any review that fails to clear the screening procedures is flagged as "suspicious" and disapproved for publishing.
The current study segregates contractors planting fake reviews by industry, city and province. For each city, province, and service category, the total number of contractors suspected of posting fictitious reviews was divided by total number of reviewed companies in that area/category. The results disclose some interesting facts.
Moving companies top the list of fake reviews with 47.83% of reviews flagged as suspicious and removed from the TrustedPros website. Locksmiths, pest control, window cleaning, home theater, and duct cleaning businesses were close contenders, with 40% or more of their reviews believed to be bogus.
On a positive note, high value service categories show a less scary probability of posting fake reviews. These include kitchen, bathroom, basement, and additions contractors. An average of about 14% of their reviews were marked as bogus. Carpenters, siding contractors, handymen, and general contractors appear to be the safest as far as reviews are concerned, with only 4%-5% of their reviews were identified as dubious.
Based on location only, contractors in Laval and Bolton had around 40% of their reviews flagged as suspicious while Montreal and Toronto rounded out the top 10 with 29% and 28% respectively. Quebec tops the list of provinces with 24.32% while Prince Edward Island appears to be a trusted place for online contractor feedback, with only 6.32% of their reviews believed to be fictitious.
As the home improvement industry becomes more and more dependent on the Internet, contractors with less experience or a less than perfect work history may try building a false online reputation to stay competitive and generate business. Whatever the motivations and methods for planting fake reviews, the fact remains that they are bad for homeowners.
The responsibility to curb planted reviews lies with contractor outsourcing websites as much as it lies with the contractors themselves. However, even major review websites do a shoddy job at weeding out fictitious reviews.
Most of these sites run the reviews through a simple algorithm that tracks the IP address and scans for keywords believed to be prevalent in fake reviews. Some sites might randomly select reviews for manual screening just to say that they "screen reviews."
Looking more closely, fake reviews refuse to die down because a synergy exists between some review websites and unscrupulous contractors. Review websites need more and more content for appearing higher in the search results for sites like Google, Yahoo and Bing. They don't see it as a problem when contractors submit fake reviews, because to them, it's just content. Some websites might even allow the businesses to submit reviews on behalf of their "clients."
Sites that do a better job at controlling fake reviews have to make extra efforts and bear the cost of screening and rejecting "content." This is not just a problem with contractor review sites, but some of the biggest online outsourcing platforms benefit greatly from their "look the other way" attitude towards reviews.
The lax screening procedures used by many major review sites make them easy targets for unethical businesses looking for the path of least resistance to falsely build their online reputation. As a result, fake reviews continue thriving, and homeowners continue losing money to bad contractors they hired because of their glowing online reviews.
"I think the homeowners hiring contractors online should only hire from reputable websites that have a proper review validation system in place," says Max Sheppard, CEO of TrustedPros. Last month, TrustedPros launched the new contractor rating system "TrustScore,"an aggregate score that takes into account factors like fake reviews, internal and external complaints, supplier relations, work history, and more.
"We believe customers come to our website with the trust that the information is honest and correct," says Max. "We reject nearly 30% of all reviews we receive because they don't appear to be genuine."
The truth is, no website may ever be able to sniff out every fictitious review. People looking for shortcuts and loopholes will always find ways to bypass the best detectors and plant deceptive reviews. The algorithms used to "identify" fake reviews are lousy at doing their job on their own. It's only when they're combined with stringent manual checks that they really help to sniff out the fakes.
Currently, there is legislation in place to persecute Canadian businesses that participate in posting fake reviews. The Competition Act strictly prohibits the use of fictitious testimonials and views them as misleading representation and deceptive marketing practices. First-time offenders can face financial penalties However, most consumers are unaware that this law exists.
Contractor review and outsourcing websites need to make concerted efforts and evolve an industry standard for ensuring the authenticity of reviews. These reviews lead to big decisions involving large sums of money. With the legislation already in place, a joint commitment by review websites to uphold their users' trust can greatly reduce the prevalent malpractice.
Here are the complete findings of the study
Home service related businesses believed to have attempted to post fake reviews listed by:
|#||Category||Fake Reviews (%)|
|3||Pest Control Companies||42.86%|
|4||Window Cleaning Companies||41.18%|
|5||Home Theater Companies||40.00%|
|6||Duct Cleaning Companies||40.00%|
|7||Snow Removal Companies||33.33%|
|8||Trash Removal Companies||30.77%|
|9||House Cleaning Companies||30.00%|
|10||Mold Removal Companies||29.03%|
|12||Carpet Cleaning Companies||25.00%|
|13||Water Heater Companies||25.00%|
|17||Home Staging Companies||16.67%|
|18||Data Wiring Companies||16.67%|
|21||Home Construction Companies||15.38%|
|23||Home Addition Contractors||14.41%|
|27||Home Inspection Companies||13.64%|
|31||Bathtub Refinishing Companies||12.50%|
|33||Garage Door Companies||12.50%|
|38||Floor Laying Contractors||11.51%|
|42||Lawn Care Companies||11.11%|
|46||Foundation Repair Contractors||10.00%|
|49||Basement Lowering Contractors||10.00%|
|51||Property Maintenance Companies||9.38%|
|52||Gas Line Installation Companies||9.09%|
|53||Swimming Pool Contractors||9.09%|
|54||Design Build Companies||8.70%|
|57||Floor Refinishing Companies||8.57%|
|59||Windows and Doors Companies||7.95%|
|62||Appliance Repair Companies||7.14%|
|70||Sheds & Gazebos Builders||4.76%|
|#||Province||Fake Reviews (%)|
|10||Prince Edward Island||6.32%|
Province and Category
|#||Province||Category||Fake Reviews (%)|
|6||Ontario||Duct Cleaning Companies||41.67%|
|7||British Columbia||Siding Contractors||40.00%|
|8||Ontario||Snow Removal Companies||38.46%|
|10||Ontario||Pest Control Companies||33.33%|
|11||Ontario||Carpet Cleaning Companies||33.33%|
|12||Ontario||Garage Door Companies||33.33%|
|14||Ontario||Home Theater Companies||33.33%|
|15||Ontario||Mold Removal Companies||33.33%|
|16||Ontario||House Cleaning Companies||30.77%|
|19||Manitoba||Windows and Doors Companies||25.00%|
|21||British Columbia||Home Construction Companies||23.08%|
|25||British Columbia||Moving Companies||20.00%|
|29||British Columbia||Landscaping Companies||18.75%|
|31||British Columbia||Kitchen Contractors||18.57%|
|33||British Columbia||Home Addition Contractors||18.18%|
|35||British Columbia||Bathroom Contractors||16.85%|
|38||Alberta||Home Addition Contractors||16.67%|
|48||Ontario||Property Maintenance Companies||15.79%|
|58||Ontario||Home Addition Contractors||13.58%|
|61||Ontario||Water Heater Companies||12.50%|
|67||British Columbia||Floor Laying Contractors||12.50%|
|68||British Columbia||Painting Contractors||12.50%|
|69||Ontario||Floor Laying Contractors||12.38%|
|72||Ontario||Foundation Repair Contractors||11.76%|
|74||Alberta||Floor Laying Contractors||11.43%|
|75||British Columbia||Roofing Contractors||11.43%|
|83||British Columbia||Tiling Contractors||10.26%|
|84||Alberta||Mold Removal Companies||10.00%|
|88||British Columbia||Deck Builders||9.26%|
|89||Alberta||Home Construction Companies||9.09%|
|92||Ontario||Windows and Doors Companies||8.33%|
|102||Ontario||Home Inspection Companies||7.14%|
|105||British Columbia||General Contractors||6.31%|
|111||British Columbia||Windows and Doors Companies||5.56%|
|112||Ontario||Design Build Companies||5.41%|
|117||British Columbia||Handyman Services||4.65%|
|#||City||Fake Reviews (%)|
City and Category
|#||City||Category||Fake Reviews (%)|
|1||Richmond Hill||Kitchen Contractors||55.56%|
|3||Richmond Hill||Basement Contractors||37.50%|
|4||Ottawa||Floor Laying Contractors||37.50%|
|8||Toronto||Floor Laying Contractors||33.33%|
|16||Surrey||Floor Laying Contractors||28.57%|
|18||Edmonton||Floor Laying Contractors||27.27%|
|20||Mississauga||Floor Laying Contractors||26.09%|
|25||Winnipeg||Windows and Doors Companies||25.00%|
|33||Richmond Hill||General Contractors||22.22%|
|42||Toronto||Windows and Doors Companies||18.75%|
|55||Richmond Hill||Floor Laying Contractors||14.29%|
|56||Maple Ridge||Bathroom Contractors||14.29%|
|65||North York||Basement Contractors||12.50%|
|68||Toronto||Home Addition Contractors||11.76%|
|98||Calgary||Floor Laying Contractors||6.25%|
For this study, we took the total number of contractors that attempted to post fictitious reviews within a specific city, province and/or service category, and divided that number by the total number of reviewed companies in that city, province or category. For example, if City A had 300 businesses with reviews, and 100 of those businesses were believed to be generating fictitious reviews, City A would have a 33.33% probability that a contractor review is fake. Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are excluded due to insufficient data.Posted by: TrustedPros