Amazon is suing administrators of more than 10,000 global Facebook groups for allegedly paying people to post fake product reviews.
The retail giant has begun legal action at Washington King County, near its Seattle headquarters, against owners of the ‘nefarious’ Facebook groups.
Members are reportedly persuaded to post positive reviews on Amazon stores in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan, in exchange for money or free gifts.
Amazon told MailOnline that the Facebook groups are run by ‘brokers’ who are providing their services to third-party sellers on Amazon.
Using their Facebook groups, the brokers are orchestrating glowing reviews for the third-party sellers’ products, which makes the sellers appear more prominently on Amazon’s website and search engines, and in turn boosts their sales.
One of the groups identified in the lawsuit is ‘Amazon Product Review’, which had more than 43,000 members until Meta took down the group earlier this year
AMAZON TARGETS ‘FAKE REVIEW FRAUDSTERS’
Amazon hosts third-party sellers – independent sellers who offer a variety of new, used and refurbished items.
Some of these third-partly sellers are working with ‘brokers’ who are running nefarious Facebook groups encouraging people to post fake reviews for products on Amazon.
Amazon said it’s unclear whether the third-party sellers are culpable. Some may be aware that the fact they are working with prohibited brokers is wrong. In some cases, the brokers may have persuaded the third-party sellers that their activity is legitimate.
Amazon was a pioneer of product reviews, having introduced them in 1995 to help customers make ‘more informed shopping decisions’.
Amazon said it wants to ensure every review that appears in its stores is ‘trustworthy and reflects an actual customer experience’.
‘Our teams stop millions of suspicious reviews before they’re ever seen by customers, and this lawsuit goes a step further to uncover perpetrators operating on social media,’ said Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s vice president of selling partner services.
‘Proactive legal action targeting bad actors is one of many ways we protect customers by holding bad actors accountable.’
Meta, the company previously known as Facebook, stressed that it’s working to detect and remove groups that promote fake user reviews.
‘Groups that solicit or encourage fake reviews violate our policies and are removed,’ a Meta spokesperson said.
‘We are working with Amazon on this matter and will continue to partner across the industry to address spam and fake reviews.’
The fraudsters behind such groups are said to solicit fake reviews for hundreds of products available for sale on Amazon, including car stereos and camera tripods.
One of the groups identified in the lawsuit is ‘Amazon Product Review’, which had more than 43,000 members until Meta took down the group earlier this year.
Amazon’s investigations revealed that the group’s administrators attempted to hide their activity and evade Facebook’s automated detection tools.
An example is giving users the option ‘R*fnd Aftr R*vew’ (refund after review), using asterisks to obscure the admin’s intentions.
The fraudsters behind such groups solicit fake reviews for hundreds of products available for sale on Amazon, including car stereos and camera tripods
Consumer champion Which? has already uncovered the issue of fake review groups on Facebook following a recent investigation.
Which? employees were able to find offending groups ‘with relative ease’ by searching for key terms on Facebook, such as ‘Amazon five-star review’ and ‘free AMZ’.
‘We were sometimes met with a message warning us that the term was associated with fraudulent activity,’ Which? said in its findings.
‘But we simply clicked continue to carry on our search, raising questions about how effective such warning messages are.’
Which? said the owners of the groups are often based in China, India and Pakistan and post photos of products that they said they needed reviews for.
Amazon said it strictly prohibits fake reviews and has more than 12,000 employees globally dedicated to protecting its stores from fraud and abuse, including fake reviews.
These positive reviews make sellers appear more prominently on Amazon’s website, which can boost their sales
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.
Since 2020, Amazon has reported more than 10,000 fake review groups to Meta, and of these, Meta has taken down more than half of the groups for policy violations and continues to investigate others.
In the past year, legal action from Amazon has shut down multiple major review brokers targeting customers in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
‘However, the nefarious business of brokering fake reviews remains an industry-wide problem, and civil litigation is only one step,’ Amazon said in a statement.
‘Permanently ridding fake reviews across retail, travel, and other sectors will require greater public-private partnership, including collaboration between the affected companies, social media sites, and law enforcement, all focused on a goal of greater consumer protection.
‘Amazon remains eager to continue to partner with all the relevant stakeholders to achieve that mutual goal.’
UK GOVERNMENT WILL MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO POST FAKE REVIEWS
The UK government is currently considering new rules that would make it illegal to write or post fake reviews online.
Announced in April, the rules would mean people are not cheated by ‘bogus ratings’ and protect consumers’ hard-earned cash.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) could enforce penalties worth up to 10% of global annual turnover for businesses or up to £300,000 in the case of an individual.
‘New measures requiring legal changes, such as tackling fake reviews, will come into effect on a commencement date that will follow parliamentary approval,’ the government’s statement said.
The government also announced clearer rules for businesses to make it easier for consumers to opt out of subscriptions so they are not stuck paying for things they no longer want.