Re­vealed: How rogue firms sell fake glow­ing ap­praisals to on­line re­tail­ers for £13 each

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Tom Kelly In­ves­ti­ga­tions Edi­tor

FAM­I­LIES are be­ing duped into buy­ing shoddy goods by fake re­views on Ama­zon.

A Daily Mail in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the glow­ing ap­praisals are sold for £13 a time by rogue mar­ket­ing firms.

The com­pa­nies use an army of ‘testers’ to post the four- and five-star re­views on­line.

The testers are given a small fee and a re­fund for the cost of buy­ing the prod­ucts they have to rec­om­mend. One re­view firm,

AMZTigers of Ger­many, boasts of hav­ing 3,000 UK testers.

Its web­site says: ‘We help you get ver­i­fied re­views from real peo­ple. Our more than 60,000 prod­uct testers through­out Europe spe­cialise in writ­ing re­views quickly and re­li­ably.’

An em­ployee told a Mail re­porter pos­ing as a po­ten­tial client: ‘It is 15 eu­ros per re­view but much cheaper when you buy

a pack­age. If you don’t like the com­ments then we can change the tester. It’s not re­ally le­gal but it’s not re­ally un­le­gal [sic]. So it’s like in a grey zone.’

She ad­mit­ted the com­pany had faced le­gal ac­tion from Ama­zon, which had deleted some re­views.

‘This is a sub­ject that is al­ways very dy­namic. It’s al­ways chang­ing. What you do in the sum­mer is not al­ways the same as in the win­ter,’ she said.

She added that four- star re­views were in­creas­ingly com­mis­sioned: ‘If ev­ery­thing was just like five stars with very good re­views it’s a bit sus­pi­cious so it’s good when it has a mix.’

The AMZTigers web­site lists a num­ber of pack­ages avail­able to cus­tomers, in­clud­ing 500 re­views for 5,000 eu­ros (£4,250), the equiv­a­lent of ten eu­ros (£8.50) each.

The client pays AMZTigers for the cost of the item pur­chased by the tester and a fee for ev­ery fake re­view. The testers must buy the prod­ucts them­selves to en­sure the re­views are clas­si­fied as ‘Ama­zon Ver­i­fied Pur­chases’. They re­ceive a re­fund and a small fee.

The UK Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Au­thor­ity says fake re­views are il­le­gal and writ­ing or com­mis­sion­ing them can lead to civil or crim­i­nal ac­tion. It es­ti­mates that £23bil­lion a year of spend­ing is in­flu­enced by on­line re­views.

Ama­zon says it has a ‘zero tol­er­ance pol­icy for any re­view de­signed to mis­lead or ma­nip­u­late cus­tomers’. It added: ‘We don’t al­low any­one to write re­views as a form of pro­mo­tion.’

AMZTigers did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment last night.

Ninety-seven per cent of shop­pers rely on on­line cus­tomer re­views to help make a pur­chase, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of 2,000 adults con­ducted by Which?

The con­sumer group re­vealed in Oc­to­ber that mil­lions of Ama­zon shop­pers are at risk of be­ing mis­led by dubious and fake re­views.

Head­phones, vac­uum clean­ers, dash cams and Blue­tooth speak­ers, had pos­i­tive rec­om­men­da­tions on the web­site de­spite Which? say­ing that the prod­ucts had fared poorly in its tests.

Adam French of Which? said: ‘Fake and in­cen­tivised re­views have be­come a highly profitable global in­dus­try. Un­scrupu­lous firms are find­ing it far too easy to game the sys­tem on pop­u­lar web­sites in­clud­ing Ama­zon.

‘With on­line re­views in­flu­enc­ing more than £20bil­lion a year in trans­ac­tions in the UK, it is vi­tal that con­sumers are not be­ing mis­led, so the world’s big­gest web­sites must do more to crack down on fak­ers.

‘This strength­ens the case for fur­ther in­ter­ven­tion from the CMA to in­ves­ti­gate how fake re­views are be­ing used to ma­nip­u­late con­sumers and to take strong ac­tion against sites that fail to tackle this prob­lem.’

Tech in­dus­try ex­pert David Li said there were ‘hun­dreds, maybe thouor sands’ of fake re­view com­pa­nies, most of them in China.

‘The whole­salers have to fight for their rank­ing and this has pro­duced a cot­tage in­dus­try in or­gan­ised com­pa­nies help­ing sellers get their com­pany top on the list­ings,’ he said.

Most of the Chi­nese fake re­view com­pa­nies use lo­cals but the more so­phis­ti­cated oper­a­tions re­cruit stu­dents in the US and the UK be­cause users with com­put­ers con­nected to the in­ter­net in these coun­tries get higher rank­ings on Ama­zon.

Mr Li added: ‘As long as Ama­zon ranks the prod­uct this busi­ness will ex­ist and the is­sue will al­ways be there. Ama­zon needs to do more. They need to tweak their al­go­rithm to catch fake re­view­ers bet­ter and pe­nalise them.’

Heiko Dunkel, a lawyer at the Fed­er­a­tion of Ger­man Con­sumer Or­gan­i­sa­tions, said com­mis­sion­ing writ­ing false re­views was not ex­plic­itly un­law­ful in Ger­many.

But he said us­ing such re­views with­out suf­fi­cient trans­parency could con­tra­vene leg­is­la­tion against un­fair com­pe­ti­tion.

Ama­zon said it was ‘re­lent­less’ in its ef­forts to pro­tect the in­tegrity of re­views and had spent £300mil­lion in the past year to shield cus­tomers from abuse, fraud, and other forms of mis­con­duct.

A spokesman added: ‘Our ob­jec­tive is to catch and re­move abu­sive re­views be­fore a cus­tomer ever sees it and in the last month over 99 per cent of the re­views read by cus­tomers were au­then­tic.

‘To do this, we use a com­bi­na­tion of au­to­mated tech­nol­ogy and teams of trained hu­man in­ves­ti­ga­tors who an­a­lyse mul­ti­ple data points such as re­viewer, seller, and/or prod­uct his­tory to de­ter­mine au­then­tic­ity.’

Many fake re­view­ers are re­cruited through so­cial me­dia groups. Those who join the ‘Ama­zon re­view’ pages of Face­book are ap­proached by sellers and of­fered their prod­uct free plus a small com­mis­sion for writ­ing a glow­ing write-up.

The CMA said this year that it had found trou­bling ev­i­dence of a ‘thriv­ing mar­ket­place for fake and mis­lead­ing on­line re­views’.

It has writ­ten to Face­book and eBay urg­ing them to con­duct an ur­gent ap­praisal of their sites.

If ev­ery­thing was just five stars with very good re­views it’s a bit sus­pi­cious ... so it’s good when it has a mix ‘Re­lent­less in our ef­forts’

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