Amazon Sues Five Sites Promising Reviews For Cash

Image courtesy of Alan Rappa

Since filing its first lawsuit to block companies from selling fraudulent positive reviews last April, Amazon has taken a number of steps to cutback on the number of fake review peppering its site: data mining reviewers’ personal relationships, tweaking how reviews appear on product pages, and suing more than 1,100 individual reviewers who sell their kind words. Now the e-commerce giant has sued five additional sites, accusing them of selling sham reviews.

Amazon filed the lawsuit Friday in a Washington state court against five websites — PaidBookReviews.org, AmazonVerifiedReviews.com, AmazonReviewsStar.com, BuyAmazonReviews.info, and ReviewConnections.com — and their operators, accusing the companies of an array of illegal business practices that undermine the e-tailer’s operations.

According to the lawsuit [PDF], the five sites and seven operators violated Amazon’s terms of use in order to deceive customers into purchasing sometimes sub par products.

“This action is a continuation of Amazon’s efforts to deter bad actors engaged in creating and purchasing fraudulent product reviews,” the complaint states. “In addition to the other relief sought, through this action Amazon will identify additional dishonest sellers and manufacturers who purchase fraudulent reviews and take enforcement action against them.”

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of trademark infringement, false advertising, and violations of the Anticyber­squatting Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act – used by the defendant businesses in order to facilitate the creation of positive paid reviews.

Amazon claims that the businesses offer to create Amazon reviews guaranteeing a certain star rating and, in some cases, provide text to be used by reviewers.

For example, AmazonVerifiedReviews.com offers sellers the ability to “Push their product towards the “top!” using “verified” product reviews that will “help your product rank better in the internal search engine.”

AmazonVerifiedReviews.com was not operational on Monday, however, a cache of the site from 2015 shows it sold “verified” book reviews and “verified” product reviews.

“We live in a world completely dependent on the online medium. It is what happens on the web that often tips the balance in your favor and gets you & your work noticed or can create a long-term damage from which you will hardly ever recover,” the site opined to prospective customers.

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While the website claims to be “honest,” Amazon claims it is anything but. In one instance, the suit claims, the company recruited reviewers on one “black hat” hacking website by promising free products plus compensation and stating that after ordering “I will send you the review to paste.”

PaidBookReview.org offers just that, positive book reviews in exchange for cash.

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According to Amazon’s lawsuit, the site’s Frequently Asked Questions page specifically promises no review will be below 4 or 5 stars, that a team of individuals assists in writing the reviews and that reviewers won’t mention they were paid for their services.

The website was still operational on Tuesday, offering customers the option to buy anywhere from five reviews for $125 to 100 reviews for $2,200.

The remaining three websites — AmazonReviewsStar.com, BuyAmazonReviews.info, and ReviewConnections.com — openly advertise the falsity of their reviews by referring to “super helpful amazon reviews that I totally made up.”

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They also highlight the unfair advantage of their services by claiming that “simply buying Amazon reviews, you can beat your competition rather easily.”

AmazonReviewsStar.com and ReviewConnections.com were still running on Tuesday, while a cache of BuyAmazonReviews.com shows the site’s domain expired in March.

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The lawsuit — the third Amazon has filed since April 2015 — is the company’s latest attempt to protect consumer reviews from being negated by falsified testimonials.

While only a small minority of sellers and manufacturers attempt to gain an unfair competitive advantage by creating false, misleading, and inauthentic customer reviews for their products on Amazon.com, the company claims those posts “threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand.”

So far, the company, which declined to comment on specific aspects of ongoing cases, tells the Seattle Times it has sued more than 1,000 people for tampering with its review system, the Seattle Times reports.

“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 the demand for fraudulent services — as well as the ecosystem of individuals and organizations who supply fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation,” Amazon said in a statement.

With the latest lawsuit Amazon seeks to stop the sites from using Amazon’s trademark, stop offering Amazon reviews for sale, and help Amazon find those engaged in fake reviews.

[via The Seattle Times]