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Fake Amazon reviews ‘being sold in bulk’

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16/02/2021
An investigation by Which? has uncovered a “thriving industry” of businesses selling fake reviews for use on Amazon Marketplace.

The consumer champion identified 10 firms offering ‘review manipulation services’, with the scale of the fake reviews astonishing ‒ 702,000 product reviewers were working with just five of the businesses Which? found. 

This is despite the fact that fake reviews, and the use of incentives in order to encourage positive feedback, being explicitly against the terms of use on Amazon.

Buying in bulk

One of the firms investigated sells reviews to sellers on Amazon across a range of packages. This starts at £13 for an individual review, moving up to £620 for 50 reviews or £8,000 for 1,000 reviews. It claims to have 20,000 reviewers based in the UK alone.

The Which? team posed as an Amazon seller and  spoke to an account manager for the firm, who not only provided advice on how to avoid being flagged as suspicious by Amazon, but also how they could get the seller’s product an Amazon’s Choice endorsement within just a fortnight.

Another site allowed sellers to search the URL of an existing listing on Amazon, and then download contact details for the reviewers of the product so that the seller could then contact them directly.

Advice for fake reviewers

These sites rely on attracting an army of people willing to write positive reviews for these products, and the schemes investigated by Which? offered reviewers not only access to hundreds of products at either a discount or for free, but also small payments for their reviews ranging from a few pounds up to more than £10.

In some cases, the reviewers are offered membership of loyalty schemes and the chance to earn a range of premium products.

All of the sites tested by Which? offered advice on how to write reviews which won’t arouse suspicion from Amazon itself, and often had criteria for reviewers to meet in order to qualify for rewards. These included the likes of leaving reviews which were at least two sentences long, posting an accompanying image or not posting reviews until at least four days after receiving the item.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently conducting an investigation into the issue of fake reviews, over concerns that retailers aren’t doing enough to combat them.

There’s no question that these fake reviews are effective too, with an experiment from Which? last year finding that made up reviews made buyers twice as likely to cough up for substandard products.

Misleading buyers

Natalie Hitchins, head of home products and services at Which?, said that Amazon faced an uphill battle against a fake reviews industry geared towards “misleading consumers”.

She added: “The regulator must crack down on bad actors and hold sites to account if they fail to keep their users safe. If it is unable to do so, the government must urgently strengthen online consumer protections.

“Amazon, and other online platforms, must do more to proactively prevent fake reviews infiltrating their sites so that consumers can trust the integrity of their reviews.”

A spokesperson for Amazon highlighted that it had won a series of injunctions against providers of fake reviews already, but warned that it cannot tackle this issue alone.

They continued: “We advise customers who doubt the credibility of a review on a product to click the ‘report abuse’ link available below each review. We will then investigate and take necessary measures.”

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