Websites selling fake five-star Amazon reviews for as low as £5 have been uncovered by a Which? investigation.
Ten websites were discovered that offered different packages of reviews, including bulk rates of up to 1,000 reviews for £8000.
In addition to money, the websites also accepted free products in exchange for reviews.
According to Which?, five of the sites it found had made over 702,000 reviews. Among their claims, some of the sites said they could earn a product an ‘Amazon’s Choice’ status in under two weeks.
In addition, one site was found to be selling contact and social media details for Amazon reviewers.
The reviews are created by teams of product reviewers, some tens of thousands strong. They receive small payments of a few pounds, along with free or discounted products. The sites even offer loyalty schemes offering premium goods.
The websites also provided advice on how to avoid Amazon’s suspicions when writing reviews. Some provided criteria to receive bonuses, such as leaving two-sentence-long reviews or images.
Amazon reported record profits for 2020 as the coronavirus drove more people to shop online. With more customers available, and more competition as companies move online, marketers are incentivised to use to game the system.
The consumer rights group warned that despite Amazon’s best efforts, the fake review industry is thriving and that online retailers face an uphill struggle to prevent it.
“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,” said Which? head of home products and services Natalie Hitchins.
An Amazon spokesperson said that the company removes fake reviews and takes action against those involved in the abuse. They added that the company works with other tech firms to ensure bad actors are reported.
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There have been concerns for years about the integrity of some Amazon reviews. A Which? report from 2019 uncovered the problem after a phone charger received hundreds of five-star reviews in a matter of days.
Batches of hundreds of reviews, many copied from similar products, were added over several days as negative reviews vanished. The charger went on to be recognised as an Amazon’s Choice product.
After a Which? investigation, the reviews were removed.
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Fake reviews are not the only way that companies seek to game online marketplaces’ systems. In summer last year, at the height of the coronavirus, people around the world received mystery packets of seeds from China.
These were part of a ‘brushing’ scam, where low-value items are sent out to random recipients. Each dispatch is registered as a sale, with an associated review, boosting the seller’s legitimacy and ranking on their marketplace of choice.
While the scam may seem harmless, it could be a sign that cybercriminals have access to a person’s details and have compromised the safety of their online accounts.