Amazon sellers use fake reviews, hacking, and bribery to mislead online shoppers Which? investigation finds – The Independent

Deceitful sellers are using a range of tactics to beat Amazon’s security systems, including bribery and hacking, to post fake product reviews, a new Which? investigation finds.

The consumer giant said that features designed to make the online retailer’s website more user-friendly were being “abused on a grand scale” to fool customers.

Last month, the watchdog analysed thousands of listings of the top 20 products in popular home technology categories on Amazon to find out how features on the website are being used to “cheat” the system.

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Which? also reviewed almost 90 reports of issues with fake reviews in recent weeks, which include sellers offering buyers cash bribes and gift vouchers in return for fake five star reviews.

The investigation found that some sellers hack genuine Amazon accounts to post fake reviews.

Meanwhile, others abuse the website’s “product variation” feature, which is used by legitimate sellers to group reviews for the same product in one place when it is available in different sizes and colours.

However, fraudulent sellers are using the feature to create false reviews, allowing them to artificially multiply the number of positive responses attributed to a product while evading detection.

“Our investigation shows the lengths that unscrupulous sellers will go to to constantly pull the wool over the eyes of shoppers,” says Natalie Hitchins, Which?’s head of home products and services.

“Writing or commissioning fake or incentivised reviews is in breach of consumer law and can lead to criminal action against the individuals responsible. It is unacceptable that consumers continue to be misled into buying poor quality or even unsafe products by the current system of reviews and rankings.”

Hitchins stated that unless online platforms must do more to tackle fake reviews, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) must intervene “to ensure that fake reviews and other misleading tactics can be stamped out”.

During the investigation, Which? also found examples of sellers taking advantage of Amazon’s “product merging” feature, which is used to bring together the reviews of similar items under one listing.

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However, unscrupulous sellers are abusing the feature by merging dormant or unavailable products with new or existing product listings as a way to transfer positive reviews from one product to another.

In one case, the consumer company champion found a smartwatch with 938 reviews dating back to 2011, despite having been first listed for sale in January 2019.

A spokesperson from Amazon says: “Any attempt to manipulate customer reviews is strictly prohibited at Amazon.”

They added that the retailer estimates that more than 90 per cent of inauthentic reviews are computer generated.

“We use machine learning technology to analyse all incoming and existing reviews 24/7 and block or remove inauthentic reviews,” they added.

The newfound tactics come a year after Which? went undercover to reveal Facebook’s “review factory” groups which boast thousands of members that post fake reviews.

Despite reporting the issue to Facebook, the company says that it found review groups that were “highly active”, with one posting 133 times in an hour. 

As a result, the CMA urged Facebook to act on the sale of fake reviews last month. The social media platform subsquently stated that the reported groups had been removed.

“Fraudulent activity is not allowed on Facebook, including the trading of fake reviews, and we have removed all of the groups Which? reported to us,” says a spokesperson from Facebook.

“We know there is more to do to tackle this issue, which is why we’ve tripled the size of our safety and security team to 30,000 and continue to invest in technology to help proactively prevent this kind of abuse.”

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As a result of the investigation, Which? has published several pieces of advice for users to help them spot fake reviews.

The company advises the public to be wary of brands they don’t know, be suspicious of large numbers of reviews in the hundreds or even thousands, and to check seller profiles.

Find out more tips on how to avoid suspicious reviews here

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