Consumer watchdog Which? has uncovered a “thriving” fake review industry, with bogus reviews on sale for as little as £5.
In its investigation, Which? signed up to 10 sites offering review manipulation services for Amazon Marketplace. Such websites offer fake review packages to sellers, with one company offering 50 reviews for £620, going up to 1,000 reviews for £8,000.
The websites also allow third-party marketplace sellers to offer free or discounted products, payments or loyalty schemes in exchange for positive reviews from product reviews who sign up for the service. One website claimed to have amassed 62,000 reviewers globally.
The websites Which? signed up to all offered advice for how to write convincing reviews so as not to arouse Amazon’s suspicion.
Despite review manipulation and incentivisation being against Amazon’s terms and conditions, as well as breaching consumer law, Which? was able to find websites offering such services easily on the first page of Google search results.
Which? highlighted the “sheer scale” of the fake review industry, identifying 702,000 product reviewers across just five of the businesses it looked at.
The organisation is therefore calling for regulators to clamp down on sites that offer fake reviews. It is also urging online platforms such as Amazon to do more to address the issue.
Natalie Hitchins, head of home products and services at Which?, said:
“More people are shopping online than ever before due to the coronavirus crisis – yet our latest research shows that Amazon is facing an uphill struggle against a relentless and widespread fake reviews industry geared towards misleading consumers.
“The regulator must crack down on bad actors and hold sites to account if they fail to keep their users safe. If it is unable to do so, the government must urgently strengthen online consumer protections.
“Amazon, and other online platforms, must do more to proactively prevent fake reviews infiltrating their sites so that consumers can trust the integrity of their reviews.”
An Amazon spokesperson said:
“We remove fake reviews and take action against anyone involved in abuse. We have won dozens of injunctions against providers of fake reviews across Europe and we won’t shy away from taking legal action.
“However, Amazon and other online retailers cannot do this alone. Customers need to be able to trust the reviews they see online and the systematic manipulation of reviews needs consistent enforcement and global coordination with stronger enforcement powers given to regulators against bad actors.
“We continue to work to protect the authenticity of customer reviews. We advise customers who doubt the credibility of a review on a product to click the ‘report abuse’ link available below each review. We will then investigate and take necessary measures.”