For me, it's not good enough to simply choose to believe. Belief is not required when evidence is clear, so in the absence of evidence 'belief' is the equivalent of 'faith' - faith being belief in the absence of evidence. Such approaches belong in the realm of religion and superstition, not science. I would prefer to 'know', via empirical, scientifically verifiable evidence.
In the meantime, I do think it's a real phenomenon. There is simply no way that so many ordinary people could be such great actors. Even great actors aren't that great. So for me, it comes down to 'what are they really seeing?'. To answer that, I stay out of America. America has bears, and plenty of BF believers and hoaxers. Australia has neither bears, nor large numbers of believers and hoaxers, so we're talking about something else.
Obviously, some are going to be hoaxes (monkey suits). Probably a good proportion of 'sightings' are down to just a single hoaxer operating in a given area, over a period of time. Then there are those encounters which have transpired in very remote locations, off all roads etc. Highly unlikely to be hoaxes, so potentially just people telling tall stories? I should add here, that I don't credit any kind of 'evidence' which doesn't involve actual full body sightings. Footprints, vocalisations, etc, can all be faked or misinterpreted.