Amazon sues to root out sellers and manufacturers that commission fake reviews
May 3, 2016 09:05 AM
Amazon.com Inc. is waging a sustained battle to root out and ban from Amazon.com the reviewers who write fake reviews for money and the groups that commission those reviews.
Last month Amazon filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court in Seattle that named owners of companies that market their ability to produce and post fake reviews for violations including trademark infringement, cybersquatting and unfair and deceptive acts. It is the latest in a series of suits the e-retailer, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, has brought since early 2015 to address abuses of product reviews. The latest suit asks the court to force the defendants to stop facilitating the fake reviews and to provide information to identify all paid reviews, who bought them and who wrote them.
The defendants in the latest suit are Chris Embry, named as the operator of AmazonVerifiedReviews.com, and Jane John-Nwankwo of PaidBookReviews.org, along with John Doe operators of AmazonReviewsStar.com, BuyAmazonReviews.info and ReviewConnections.com. As of last week, AmazonVerifiedReviews.com and BuyAmazonReviews.com were no longer operating. Email inquiries to PaidBookReviews.org and ReviewConnections.com seeking comment on the suit did not receive responses. An email inquiry to AmazonReviewsStar.com seeking comment on the suit generated a reply from the email address firstname.lastname@example.org asking how many reviews were wanted.
Amazon filed a similar suit naming other paid review sites in April 2015, and in the fall pursued more than 1,100 people who posted their availability to write Amazon reviews for cash on Fiverr.com, an online marketplace where freelancers offer their services. Amazon at the time said it had conducted an extensive investigation, which included communicating and commissioning fake reviews from the freelancers. Fiverr wasn’t named in the suit but said it was working with Amazon to resolve the issue. A search today for “Amazon reviews” on Fiverr.com returned 475 results, but the services offered did not include review writing. Rather, services offered included product photo retouching and writing product listings.
Amazon says the lawsuits have allowed it to “take enforcement action against parties not directly involved in the lawsuits, including banning sellers and reviewers,” an Amazon spokeswoman says in a statement to Internet Retailer. “To help eliminate the incentives to engage in reviews abuse, we will continue to pursue legal action against the root cause of reviews abuse—the sellers and manufacturers who create demand for fraudulent reviews—as well as the ecosystem of individuals and organizations who supply fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation.”
To post a review on Amazon.com, a reviewer must have an Amazon account and be a customer. By virtue of being an account holder and customer, reviewers are bound by rules Amazon sets out in its “conditions of use” terms, and those terms prohibit paid reviews.
Sites like the ones named in the suit—which often use Amazon’s trademarks on their web pages—advertise their ability to generate reviews and explain how reviews can help those who commission them sell more on Amazon. For example, AmazonReviewsStar.com on its website says it has more than 300 “Amazon verified accounts” of male and female customers, and it will post reviews from different accounts and IP addresses. Package prices start at $150 for 50 reviews. At PaidBookReviews.com review buyers can write their own review that the service will then attach to a reviewer.
Amazon, in its suit, cites how other review firms advertise, including language such as: “Simply buying Amazon reviews, you can beat your competition rather easily” and “Super helpful amazon reviews that I totally made up.”
Amazon says fake and misleading reviews remain a “very small fraction of the overall number of reviews” and that it removes them as they are identified. The e-retailer also introduced a review ranking system that displays first the reviews it considers most helpful.
Policing fakes is important because consumers use reviews to help direct their purchases. Research from Bazaarvoice, a vendor of product review technology, shows a direct link between the number of online reviews a product has and its sales. Having one review results in a 10% increase in orders; when there are at least 30 reviews orders jump 30%. The research also finds that consumers who interact with reviews convert at a 58% higher rate compared to those who do not. 321, or about 64%, of merchants ranked in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, allow consumers to post product reviews on their sites.