An investigation by Which? has uncovered 'fake review factories' with tens of thousands of members paid to post 5-star reviews on Amazon.
Two large groups named in the investigation – Amazon UK Reviewers and Amazon Deals Group – had more than 87,000 members between them, meaning even if each member only participated once, there could be huge amounts of untruthful positives on the site from those groups alone.
Here's how the scam works:
- In the closed group, which members have to request access to and be approved by a moderator, a seller posts a link to a product they want reviewed.
- Reviewers buy the item through Amazon UK as normal – this is so they get the 'verified purchase' badge on their review, which Amazon adds automatically if they ordered through the same account as the review.
- They leave a positive, five-star review on the product.
- The seller refunds them the cost of the item through PayPal. Many also cover the PayPal fee.
- The reviewer then gets to keep their free item.
Researchers from Which? joined the groups and bought five such suggested items, then left honest two- and three-star reviews. The sellers insisted they were changed to five-star reviews with photos in order to be paid. When Which? declined to change their rating, the sellers refused to refund the items.
Some of the sellers disappeared after the items were purchased:
"In three out of five cases, the investigator was not refunded despite posting reviews – either because the reviews were not positive enough, or because the seller could no longer be contacted.
In one example the investigator gave the product – a smartwatch – a two-star review. They were told by the seller to rewrite it because the product was free, so it 'is the default to give five-star evaluation.'"
Which? MD of Home Products and Services Alex Neill said of the investigation:
"Sellers are effectively ripping people off with paid-for reviews. They don’t represent an honest and impartial opinion, but instead mislead people into buying products that they might have otherwise avoided."
The data was passed to Amazon and Facebook, which both responded with pearl-clutching statements about how this was all terribly against the rules, but the fact is this has been going on for ages and not a whole lot seems to be done about it.
We were able to find posts offering refunds for reviews with very little effort on Facebook – not all the groups are even private.
It's a good reminder not to take star ratings too seriously, especially on products by no-name brands that seem to be selling suspiciously well. And on the big stuff, you can always trust your pals at Giz UK to give you the honest scoop.