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Internet warning: Don’t believe everything you read

In today’s digital world it’s easy to find reviews on every product and service you need.

Online users leave comments, write reviews and rate products.

And it’s not just limited to actual “stuff.”

They apply to every service from the lunch counter to the theme park they buy tickets to on vacation.

Any company can be ranked against competitors based on little more than the feeling that was left with the consumer.

These practices apply from small businesses to multinational corporations such as BP. The oil giant weathered thousands of reviews and comments after the Gulf Coast spill.

And yet do you think airing those opinions changed anyone’s mind as they sped down the road, realizing they need gas and have a choice between BP and 7-11?

Which gas station would you have picked?

This new era has conditioned buyers to seek a variety of information before choosing.

But how do you know the information you are getting is truthful? How do you know one company didn’t just hire someone to post positive reviews about it?

You can’t.

You might discover trends that cause you to lean one way or another on which hotel to book for your anniversary vacation. You may find some hideous comments that help you steer clear. But how do you really know what to believe amid the opinion overload?

BBB recommends starting with these five tips:

• Compare online information to other resources such as printed travel guides, resource help books, reputable magazines, industry-specific periodicals, etc.

• Look for multiple reviews that use the same language or sentence in each review, or have the same user name assigned many times. They could be false reviews.

• Look for a high volume of reviews and an average ranking. The more reviews, the more accurate the overall rating.

• Determine if the review site allows anonymous reviews. Sites that don’t allow anonymous reviews may be more reliable than sites that do.

• Use websites that offer multiple sources of feedback, such as a ranking grade plus comments. This offers a more comprehensive picture of the product.

The Better Business Bureau offers information for buyers and businesses. Our BBB Business Reviews provide three primary sections of information about a company.

The first and most notable section that each business earns is its grade, rated A+ through F. The grade reflects the marketplace history of that business such as length of time in business and proper licensing. The second section is complaint detail. Exact wording is posted regarding the correspondence between the consumer and the business. This shows how the business handled the interaction.The third section allows customers to write a positive, negative or neutral experience about the company.

A difference between our reviews and many others is that BBB vets the reviews to ensure there was an actual transaction. If the business replies that they have no knowledge of this consumer, then it’s up to the consumer to prove otherwise using receipts or details of the transaction. This virtually eliminates fake reviews.

Do your part as an informed consumer: Research companies before buying.

Don’t believe everything you read. And remember that the Internet is not the only source of information on businesses. If it’s a major purchase, get multiple bids. Talk to the company.

Empower yourself and feel confident.

Eleanor Katzele is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana.