RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Online reviews can be helpful, but how do you know if those reviews are legit—or if someone is manipulating that glowing five-star review to give their product a good rating? 

That was a question CBS 17 asked after a viewer provided Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia with a letter that offered her a gift in exchange for a great review. 

Before you clicked the mouse to order that online purchase, you probably checked an online review or two. 

Meredith Gallo, of BestReviews, (which is owned by CBS 17 parent company Nexstar) explained how crucial it is to have an untainted review. 

It’s very important,’’ she said. “You want to make sure the reviews you are using are accurate and have the most information.” 

When a CBS 17 viewer received a letter from a company asking her to write a 5-star review in exchange for a $30 Amazon gift card, it looked a little fishy especially when the company warned her “not to attach pictures of this letter to the review.” 

Sbraccia sent a copy of the letter to Amazon. 

Spokeswoman Nicole Pampe said, “Our policies prohibit reviews abuse including offering incentives like gift cards to write positive reviews.” 

She also said, We identified the sender of the letter and are taking appropriate action.” 

Penalties can include legal action.

She declined to cite specifics of the investigation, but did say the merchandising giant tries to ferret out fake and tainted reviews using “a combination of sophisticated technology and skilled investigators to analyze them before publication.” 

Pampe added, “We continue to monitor all existing reviews for signs of abuse and quickly act if we find an issue.” 

Amazon shoppers often decide to buy a product because it has a high number of stars.

Fake reviews taint the system and Amazon says it goes after phony reviews using a variety of techniques it won’t disclose so the bad guys won’t know how they do it.   

There are ways you can detect a fake review.

“When you are looking at reviews there are a couple of red flags to steer away from and be cautious of,” said Gallo. 

Look for: 

  • Many 5-star reviews with one/two word descriptions 
  • Reviews with misspelled words 
  • Customers “also bought” section contains unrelated products 

If the other products recommended don’t make any sense — like when you’re purchasing pool equipment and this is a winter coat, something fishy is going on there,” said Gallo.

Fake reviews are also illegal and the FTC says it fines companies up to $43,000 per violation.

When looking at reviews for a product, don’t just go by one glowing review. 

Compare multiple reviews so you can make an informed decision. 

If something doesn’t look right, do what CBS 17 did — report it.