When you look at products online at Amazon or another site, it’s instinctual to take a glance at the star ratings by your peers. But with a new expose just posted by the New York Times about user review bribery, this is a good time to remind yourself not to trust those reviews.

The article shows how a small company called VIP Deals (which has no website) offered a full refund on a product in exchange for a user review.

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On, VIP Deals was selling a Vipertek-made leather case for the Kindle Fire for only $10. After a user purchased the case, VIP Deals would send a letter to the user offering a refund in exchange for a review.

“In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free for a review,” the letter said. “Please also rate your five-star experience. We strive to earn 100 percent perfect ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!”

Amazon told the New York Times that VIP Deals had violated its guidelines, which prohibit compensation for user reviews. The VIP Deals company page and its products are no longer listed on

What the story amounts to is another lesson on what sources you can trust online. Not all user reviews are fakes, obviously, but it’s a good idea to do your own research before you buy. And if you want a second opinion then, hell, may just go back to “word of mouth” as your primary trusted source.

[Computer user image: Ivan Nakonechnyy/Shutterstock]