Consumer Reports: Watch what you say in online reviews

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Consumer Reports has advice on how to write helpful reviews without getting into trouble. (WLS)

A lot of consumers depend on online reviews before they travel, book a restaurant or a buy a product or service. Many who post online reviews no doubt believe they are helping others.

But, sometimes companies have hit back if the review is negative. Consumer Reports has advice on how to write helpful reviews without getting into trouble.

If something you ordered isn't up to snuff, or a trip or meal is marred by poor service, complaining online can certainly help influence other consumers.

Some companies fear serious damage from bad feedback. Until recently they were able to include non-disparagement clauses in their agreements that allowed them to threaten customers with penalties over negative reviews.

"We know of one Utah couple who was billed a $3,500 penalty after complaining in a post about a company's failed delivery. A court later ruled that they didn't have to pay. But not before their credit took a hit," said Margot Gilman, Consumer Reports money editor.

Now a new federal law bars companies from inserting non-disparagement clauses that threaten or penalize people for posting negative reviews.

Even so, Consumer Reports says you should still watch what you say.

"First of all, your review has to be honest and accurate. Companies can still successfully sue you for defamation if you make a false statement that can damage their reputation," Gilman said.

Another tip: don't generalize -- Just speak about your own particular experience.

But consumers say companies should be eager to address poor reviews.

Another way to try to protect yourself: if the company reaches out to try to offer an explanation after you've complained, consider changing or deleting your comment if you find it was incorrect or not supported by the facts. And let the company know you did so -- but without admitting wrongdoing.

For more information, CLICK HERE.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumerreports.org

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