Amazon takes strong legal action against fake reviews

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Have you ever purchased a product online and not found it up to the mark, even though there were thousands of five-star reviews, all singing praises for the product?  Well, the reviews you read might not actually be real — they’re paid for by the seller. Buyers in the United States were shocked to discover the scale at which review fraud was taking place on Amazon.

Amazon acknowledges this problem and according to them, they try extremely hard to remove fake reviews from their platform. They have several lawsuits filed to counter review fraud; a 2021 lawsuit against AppSally and Rebatest for acting as a platform for fake reviews, and the latest one being against Facebook group moderators for promoting products which need incentivised reviews. 

The problem has been caused mainly due to third party sellers; the Fulfilled-by-Amazon (FBA) program allows sellers from outside the US to ship and sell their products via Amazon. Reviews are a sellers currency on any e-commerce platform; and third party sellers are gaming the system to bring in fake reviews by giving away products for free (a practice which is strictly banned as per Amazon’s terms for sellers). 

Amazon’s recent lawsuit is against moderators of Facebook groups in the United States; however, the problem is far wider than that. A study by Rajvardhan Oak, a Ph.D. student at the University of California Davis found that the fake reviews ecosystem spans multiple countries: from sellers in China, through agents (group moderators) in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and buyers writing fake reviews in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Germany and France markets. Oak’s study also found that the fake reviews hurt genuine sellers; buyers often leave 1-star reviews for genuinely good products, so as to not appear suspicious to Amazon for leaving only 5-star reviews. 

Oak’s research also uncovered competitive review fraud; sellers scam buyers by promising a refund for a competitor’s product, and then never provide it. The buyers believe that they have been scammed by the competitor; they return the product and downgrade their review to a 1-star. Thus, a malicious seller was able to degrade the reputation of a competitor (via a return and a negative review) at no cost. The study also identifies two other novel kinds of fraud where agents defraud buyers and sellers, and buyers defraud agents and sellers. 

According to a statement by Amazon, it has 12,000 employees around the world dedicated to protecting its stores from fraud and abuse, including fake reviews. A dedicated team investigates fake review schemes on social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, and regularly reports the abusive groups to those companies. However, it looks like the problem continues to persist: there still exist thousands of groups on Facebook, Discord and Telegram where fake reviews are brokered. And like Oak’s study showed, Amazon is not able to rapidly block malicious products and sellers from its platform. 

Reviews are important in countering fake claims or scams; we read reviews to assess the quality and durability of a product through genuine first-hand accounts. But fake reviews that are hard to detect are indeed concerning. Social media, e-commerce platforms, law enforcement and vigilant consumers must work together to purge fraudulent reviews.

This article was written in cooperation with Marianna Sanchez