Online user reviews not always what they seem
No matter what she buys Karen Schmidt first looks online to see what other people are recommending.
"I bought this pot rack online that I checked the reviews. I bought my daughter's cell phone online that I checked out the reviews," Schmidt says.
But Consumer Reports ShopSmart cautions that not all user reviews are objective and independent.
"Believe it or not, many of these reviews are written by employees who are posing as satisfied customers," Lisa Lee Freeman of ShopSmart said.
Lifestyle Lift - a chain of cosmetic surgery clinics - was fined $300,000 because its employees published positive reviews and engaged in deceptive commercial practices.
"Bloggers are another source of suspect reviews. They may be getting freebies or payments from companies to say positive things about their products," Freeman said.
Take the web site izea.com. Its website boasts that "compensation can come in the form of cash, gift cards, points, products, or services."
The site brags it's gotten a million product mentions online with paid bloggers.
Some warning signs of suspect reviews - there's no mention of personal experience with the item and the reviewer lists only the pros and none of the cons.
Also be on the lookout for sponsorship disclosures. But they can be hard to spot, like this one from Cold Stone Creamery.
Another tip: don't stop at the first two or three reviews. At least one site - yelp.com - says it moves a positive review to the top spot if the business pays for it.
Bottom line - be skeptical. Before you buy, check lots of sources.
The Competition Bureau says if websites don't disclose that positive reviews are paid it could constitute a false and misleading claim. So if you suspect that's what's going on report it.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen