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Thousands of '£5 fake reviews' infiltrate Amazon

Watch: Fake Amazon reviews being sold 'in bulk' for £5 each, investigation finds

Amazon (AMZN) Marketplace is facing an uphill struggle to stem the tide of fake reviews on its site.

A new investigation from consumer group Which? uncovered a thriving industry where potentially hundreds of thousands of misleading fake reviews, bought and sold for as little as £5 ($7) each, are making their way onto the platform.

The investigation found businesses dedicated to the sale of Amazon reviews in bulk and incentivising positive reviews through the offer of free products or other incentives.

Many had advice on how to avoid detection from the online marketplace. Some claimed they could get sellers the coveted Amazon’s Choice endorsement within a fortnight.

Amazon Marketplace is the world’s biggest online marketplace and a lucrative prospect for third-party sellers. It sold an estimated £215bn worth of products worldwide in 2020.

All of the 10 sites offering review manipulation services that Which? investigated were found easily on the first page of Google search results for terms like "make money from reviews" or "get free products." Some were even sponsored adverts, meaning the business has paid Google to appear at the top of the results and that the ad content has been reviewed by the search engine.

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Which?’s investigation points to the sheer scale of the fake reviews industry – with 702,000 product reviewers across just five of the businesses it looked at. They appear to be thriving despite fake reviews, including incentivisation, being strictly against Amazon's terms of use.

Amazon Marketplace is the world’s biggest online marketplace and a lucrative prospect for third-party sellers. Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty
Amazon Marketplace is the world’s biggest online marketplace and a lucrative prospect for third-party sellers. Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty

For sellers looking to buy reviews there was an array of different packages they could purchase to boost their products on Amazon – and Which? saw several examples of products where these tactics appeared to have paid off.

Product reviewers who sign up get access to hundreds of products, from children’s toys to exercise equipment, and are offered small payments alongside a free or discounted product – ranging from a few pounds up to more than £10. They even have the option of taking part in loyalty schemes and earning themselves the pick of premium products.

Which? looked into: AMZDiscover, AMZTigers, AppSally, Cashbackbase, Jump Send, Nicerebate, Rebatest, Severnvine, TesterJob, however none had responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

All the sites Which? signed up to gave advice for how to write reviews so as not to arouse Amazon’s suspicion, and in many cases had criteria for reviewers to meet to qualify for rewards.

These included leaving reviews that were at least two sentences long, posting an accompanying image or video and not posting reviews until at least four days after receiving a product. Some sites also had no return policies – as returned products are monitored by Amazon and high return rates can affect the chance of an Amazon’s Choice endorsement.

For one of the review sites Which? signed up to, users claimed in reviews left on Trustpilot that they had left an honest product review of three stars or less, only to be told this meant they were not eligible for a refund as reviews had to be four or five stars.

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Which? also found products on Amazon Marketplace where it appeared that incentivising reviewers had paid off for third-party sellers. A pair of Enacfire headphones that was being offered to reviewers on website Rebatest for free instead of the usual £35 price, had amassed 21,670 ratings and a 4.4 star customer score on Amazon. Enacfire told Which? that it has no knowledge of, or involvement in, rebates in exchange for reviews.

Which? research, and a CMA investigation, have also previously exposed the issue of Facebook groups trading fake Amazon reviews.

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To protect consumers from being misled, Which? is calling on the regulator to take swift and effective action that puts a stop to sites that are trading, or facilitating the trading of, fake reviews, a practice which is likely to be in breach of consumer law.

Online platforms, including Amazon, must also do more to proactively prevent fake reviews infiltrating their sites. This includes working with other tech firms like Google and Facebook, where these fake review firms and groups thrive, to shut them down.

If online platforms do not take responsibility, the government must urgently strengthen online consumer protections, including platforms' legal responsibilities for fake and misleading review activity, so that sites can be held to account if they fail to keep their users safe.

An Amazon spokesperson said: “We remove fake reviews and take action against anyone involved in abuse. We have won dozens of injunctions against providers of fake reviews across Europe and we won’t shy away from taking legal action."

The online retailer noted that it cannot be alone in tackling this, while advising customers who doubt the credibility of a review on a product to click the ‘report abuse’ link available below each review.

According to Google the ads shared by Which? were reviewed and action was taken on those that violated its policies. It has strict policies that govern the kinds of ads that it allows to run on its platform and enforces those policies vigorously, and if it finds ads that are in violation it removes them.

According to Google users should be able to trust the ads they are seeing and because of this it is invested in creating a safe digital advertising ecosystem for users, advertisers and publishers. In 2019, its team took down approximately 2.7 billion bad ads.

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