Saijo George

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tuesday14 Jul 2020

The Story of How Fake Reviews Are Bought and Paid for on Amazon

The story of how for the last nine months, Eli Reiter has been writing positive Amazon reviews in exchange for free merchandise.

Sellers used servicers like RebateKey which offers rebates between 5% and 100% to bolster the search results when consumers are looking for. The rebate check arrived after 30 days, so you couldn’t return the product after payment.

The black market for Amazon reviews makes some sense if you consider how valuable positive reviews can be to sellers on the platform. With more than 2.5 million sellers on the platform, getting seen by customers who might make a purchase is no easy feat. As one friend who has been selling on Amazon Marketplace since 2016 explained to me, on Amazon, “the more reviews you have on an item, the more likely for the item to come up in an algorithmic search. The more customers like the item, with reviews, the more Amazon likes it.”

Amazon has been cracking down on fake and incentivized reviews. Up until 2016, the company actually allowed sellers to offer discounts and free merchandise in exchange for reviews, as long as the reviewer disclosed the deal in their review. Even before changing this policy, the company had sued the operators of websites offering the service as well as individuals who offered to leave five-star reviews in exchange for a fee using the freelancing website Fiverr. The FTC issued its first charges against a company that hired fake reviewers last year.

Amazon is on the lookout for suspicious reviewers. Recruiting people on other platforms creates real purchases on Amazon from accounts with real addresses, and the refund is hidden off of Amazon’s platform. All of which make the reviews more convincing.

The strategy didn’t seem to work perfectly. Some of his reviews were never posted. Some items mysteriously got taken down. Sometimes he would purchase an item, receive it, and go back to review it, only to find that it was taken down.


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