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Watchdog Uncovers Fake Review Factories on Facebook

Dominique Adams

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fake review factories

Researchers for consumer group Which? have discovered numerous invite-only pages on Facebook offering ‘rewards for reviews’. 

According to Which? companies are trying to skew their product ratings on Amazon’s platform by buying five-star reviews online. The practice of ‘rewards for reviews’ is misleading to consumers who often make purchases or choose online vendors based on how well-rated they are.

Amazon Deals Group and Amazon UK Reviewers were two of the largest Facebook groups hawking reviews, between them they may have up to 87,000 members potentially engaged in writing fake reviews.

Companies seeking reviews will post details of their products in these groups to potential reviewers. To fool Amazon that the reviews are genuine, the reviewers have to purchase and pay for the items themselves. After they have left a glowing review of the product, the unscrupulous company refunds the purchase price through PayPal, and sometimes pays an additional fee.

Catfishing the Catfish

Undercover investigators from Which? posed as reviewers and sent requests to join several such groups. “They were instructed to order a specified item through Amazon, write a review and share a link to the review once it was published. Following the successful publication of the review, a refund for the cost of the item would then be paid via PayPal,” said Which?.

The undercover reviewers went along with the scheme, however, they turned the tables on the fake review factories by posting their honest opinions. In one example, the investigator gave the product – a smartwatch – a two-star review. They were contacted by the seller and told to rewrite their review since the product was free and that means by default it should get a five-star evaluation.

In another example, the investigator was told that a “refund will be done after a good five-star review with some photo,” after ordering wireless headphones. After posting a three-star review the investigator was told to change it by the seller to a five-star review or they would not be refunded.

The investigator refused to comply and was not refunded as a result.

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Fake Review Factories a Global Problem

According to the Guardian, postings appeared every couple of minutes from companies from around the world offering to pay for a positive review. Many of the companies buying reviews are far-eastern manufacturers looking for consumers in western markets to access Amazon and post the reviews. Fake reviews have been an issue for some time, however, they remain highly influential.

Alex Neill, Managing Director of Home Products and Services at Which?  said: “Sellers are effectively ripping people off with paid-for reviews. They don’t represent an honest and impartial opinion but instead mislead people into buying products that they might have otherwise avoided.”

In response these revelations, Amazon said: “We do not permit reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment. Customers and marketplace sellers must follow our review guidelines and those that don’t will be subject to action including potential termination of their account.”

Facebook commented: “Facilitating or encouraging the trade of fake user reviews is not permitted on Facebook. We urge people to use our reporting tools to flag content they suspect may violate our standards so that we can take swift action.”

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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