A blogger has exposed the allegedly widespread ‘fraudulent’ activity of Amazon sellers, who are scamming potentially millions of customers.
Posting anonymously under the account ‘amazonthrowaway’ on Imgur, an online image hosting service, the blogger refers to the ‘rampant fraud’ that internet giant Amazon ‘turns a blind eye to’.
‘According to some Amazon sellers, review fraud on Amazon is rampant and obvious, and it fools a lot of people into buying fraudulent products, all while making scam artists millions of dollars in the process,’ the blogger writes.
The main culprit of the attack is a dietary supplement from a company called Ubervita, which has been the highest-selling fat loss supplement on Amazon for the past year and costs $24.96 for 60 capsules.
The product’s Amazon page boasts thousands of four-star and five-star reviews, along with a flood of one-star reviews.
‘What initially threw up red flags on this listing is how quickly it shot to the top,’ the blogger writes. ‘Gaining hundreds and eventually thousands of unverified 5 star reviews at an incredible rate. At the same time, many of the other top sellers began getting hit with unverified 1 star reviews.’
Upon investigating the company, the blogger discovered that Sam Keeler, a man who lives in Washington in the US, about two hours from Seattle, owned it.
So-called customers who had reviewed Ubervita’s product had also left similarly positive reviews on products from a company called Eden Pond, also owned by Sam Keeler.
The blogger also alleges there was – and perhaps still is – an Amazon employee by the same name. And that another company linked to the owner of Ubervita was based a short drive from the Amazon office in Seattle.
While somebody named Sam Keeler is listed as a merchandising specialist for Amazon on professional search engine ZoomInfo, Information Age is unable to verify the legitimacy of this or whether it is the same man who owns Ubervita.
‘This could be complete coincidence,’ the blogger writes. ‘But the Sam Keeler that owns Ubervita very clearly knows what he's doing and it appears he has very extensive knowledge of the Amazon system. Could this be knowledge gained from being an employee?’
‘All of this information, and a lot more, has been submitted directly to Amazon and nothing has been done. The only disciplinary action that has been taken is shutting down one of Sam's seller accounts. There were more accounts up and selling within hours, so that barely even qualifies as a minor setback.’
Can of worms
The blogger’s accusation is likely to open a can of worms on a large-scale issue that blights Amazon, and an underground marketplace that sees people trade money in return for deceptive reviews.
The scam involves Amazon sellers purchasing a number of fake reviews from a ‘review provider’, who allocates a portion of that fee to their writers.
The writers then send the provider the links upon completion, along with their PayPal accounts for payment. An average of $3 per review is paid to the review provider, who then pays around $1 to the writer.
Amazon sellers even give out coupon codes so writers can cover the cost of buying the product in order for the review to be verified, which shows that someone who actually bought the product through Amazon wrote it.
A quick online search by Information Age discovered a raft of forums and networks full of people taking part in this scam.
Astoundingly, one review provider on TBN, a forum for people who want to make money fast, accuses those who get banned for writing the reviews of fraud and demands a refund from such people.
‘If you know anyone who has been completing reviews and has been banned, please notify any review provider,’ the review provider writes. ‘This is unacceptable and should not affect us providers. You should be lucky enough to get paid to do reviews from us as is. Scamming us affects us heavily and we end up losing clients.
‘We expect a refund from each and every one of you who has ended up with a banned account. This is not our fault, [it’s] yours for posting excessive reviews. Especially unverified reviews. If you cheat us, you ruin it for everyone as we are getting less clients this way. We are now cracking down heavily on reviewers who are frauding and expect a refund (sic).’
A spokesperson for Amazon told Information Age it has 'zero tolerance' for content designed to mislead or deceive customers, and has invested in preventing this content from surfacing on its site.
'We’ve added features like Amazon Verified Purchase, helpful votes and review comments in the pursuit of a system that’s open and flexible and yet structured and helpful for anyone who wants to learn more from other customers about anything we sell,' the spokersperson said.
'Over time we have also built mechanisms, both manual and automated, that remove reviews which violate our guidelines. We hope to keep improving our approach over time and we welcome feedback from customers and reviewers alike on how to keep making reviews more valuable to Amazon shoppers.'
Can you identify other items on Amazon that fall foul of this scam?