An investigation by consumer advocacy group CHOICE reveals how easy it is for Australians to be duped online by fraudulent product reviews and fake followers on social media platforms.

“When shopping online we increasingly rely on reviews on social media platforms and our opinions can be influenced by what we read and view on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. But with 20 fake reviews costing a little under $2 each to publish, consumers need to be aware not all is as it seems online,” says CHOICE Head of Media Tom Godfrey.

The revelations come as part of a campaign the consumer group is running which takes aim at fake online reviews and bogus Facebook & Twitter profiles.

“Consumers will be surprised to learn how easy and cheap it is to purchase popularity and bogus reviews on our favourite social media sites,” says Mr Godfrey.

The CHOICE investigation found popularity can be purchased on most social platforms with Facebook likes costing $70 for 2,500, Twitter and Instagram followers $75 for 5000 and YouTube views just $70 for 25,000.

As well as lifting the lid on bogus likes and followers, CHOICE’s investigation also looked at paying for fake product or service endorsements.

“Many consumers will be unaware of how easy it is for businesses to manipulate their perceptions online and how simple it is for their identity to be misappropriated and used to endorse a product they may never have set eyes on,” says Mr Godfrey.

“Using a fake email address, we posted a job on a popular freelancing site asking for 15 reviews of an imaginary product. Within 24 hours 11 bids for the job were received from freelancers as far afield as South Africa and Jamaica, all willing to write a variety of positive reviews highlighting aspects of the product as instructed.”

“We selected one freelancer who completed the job exactly to our specifications in 48 hours for just $34.00.”

“It has been estimated 16% of online reviews on some sites are fake and we are aware of cases locally where large corporates have been caught posting bogus negative reviews against competitors.”

“From buying white goods and electronics to booking accommodation, manipulating consumers with fake reviews, ratings and likes is big business.”

“The message is clear, if you are relying on ratings and reviews on social sites to make an informed purchasing decision – it won’t be too long before you’re misled into a poor choice.”

You can view the fake product reviews at CHOICE’s Click Kings YouTube channel here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9RWMnU2XQA

CHOICE’s campaign to raise awareness of the fake review industry will continue to run across social platforms for the next 2 months.