An organised Amazon fake review scam potentially implicating 200,000 people has been uncovered by a cybersecurity group.
The SafetyDetectives cybersecurity team exposed a database featuring over 13 million direct messages between vendors and customers willing to provide fake reviews in exchange for free products.
According to the exposed data these Amazon vendors will send a list of items and products which they need five-star reviews for.
After the customer buys the product and writes a review, they will message the vendor with a link to their Amazon profile and PayPal details, before receiving a refund for the product.
By refunding off-site via PayPal the transactions appear to look legitimate, and the customers are allowed to keep the refunded item as payment for the review.
The sellers also sent instructions to vendors to make their reviews sound more credible and avoid detection by Amazon’s moderation team.
These included offering specific criteria to follow in their reviews, waiting a few days before publishing and ensuring reviews were more than a few works long.
Amazon and other online tech giants like Facebook have come under increasing pressure from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to do more to tackle the prevalence of fake reviews on their platforms.
In April Facebook, which has been accused of being awash with “fake review factories” by consumer watchdog Which? since 2019, announced it had removed 16,000 groups selling fake reviews.
The CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli said it was “disappointing” Facebook has taken so long to take action, after committing to putting greater efforts into tackling the issue in January 2020.
Despite this, the CMA also said that the social media giant had made “significant changes” in that time across both Facebook and Instagram.
Research conducted by Which? suggests that fake five-star reviews make customers more than twice as likely to buy products.
“Which? has found categorical evidence that people are at huge risk of being misled by fake reviews, which is particularly worrying given people are shopping online more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic,” Which? director of advocacy Caroline Normand said.
“Online platforms must put more effective measures in place to stop unscrupulous sellers gaming the system with ease, otherwise the CMA needs to take strong action against these major sites.”