Amazon details new legal action to combat fake reviews

Amazon is intensifying efforts to battle fake review brokers, with the first criminal complaint filed in Europe.

The company announced it had filed a criminal complaint in Italy – the first of its kind in Europe – and its first civil lawsuit in Spain. According to Amazon, these two legal proceedings, plus 10 other new lawsuits recently launched in the US, target the so-called fake review brokers.

Such fraudsters allegedly operate more than 11,000 websites and social media groups that attempt to orchestrate fake reviews on Amazon and other stores in exchange for money or free products.

These groups attempt to recruit individuals willing to post misleading – simply put, fake – reviews on Amazon’s stores in the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other markets.

The first criminal complaint in Europe targets a high-profile broker in Italy selling fake reviews. In turn, the civil complaint in Spain was filed against a fake review broker, Agencia Reviews.

The problem of fake online reviews being bought and sold goes back to the early days of the internet, and so far, the efforts to stop illegal activity have been futile. But Amazon, one of the largest retailers in the world, claims such reviews hurt its brand reputation.

“Holding bad actors accountable through litigation and criminal referrals is one of many important ways that we protect customers so they can shop with confidence,” Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s Vice President of Selling Partner Services, said.

“In addition to continuing to advance our robust detection and prevention of fake reviews in our store, Amazon will remain relentless in identifying and enforcing against bad actors that attempt to engage in review abuse. There is no place for fake reviews on Amazon or anywhere else in the industry.”

According to experts, with its lawsuits against fake online review brokers, Amazon is breaking, or at the very least, exploring new grounds.

Jim Gibson, an intellectual property lawyer and professor at the University of Richmond, told InvestigateTV it was important Amazon was suing the moderators of the Facebook groups and not the sellers of the products who are paying for the reviews or the users posting fake opinions.

At the same time, Gibson thinks these lawsuits fit more within a public relations campaign rather than a serious legal action – the problem is not likely to disappear. For example, Amazon could easily sue Facebook for not cracking down on fake review brokers but doesn’t want to publicly fight with the social media giant.

Amazon was a pioneer of product reviews, having introduced them in 1995 to help customers make more informed shopping decisions. As the problem of fake reviews emerged, the company formed teams of expert investigators dedicated to detecting and blocking them.

Amazon claims it proactively stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2020 alone.

Lately, online retailers have been more frequently targeted by refund fraudsters, a new report warned. It’s tied to fake review schemes, as brokers usually reward users who post fake reviews with full refunds.