Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Amazon’s top reviewers in the UK appear to have engaged in fraud, leaving thousands of five-star ratings in exchange for money or free products. The company took down 20,000 product reviews following an investigation by the Financial Times.
Justin Fryer, the number one Amazon reviewer in the UK, left a five-star rating once every four hours on average in August, according to the FT’s analysis. Many of these reviews were for products from random Chinese companies. Fryer then seems to have resold the products on eBay.
Scams like these typically start on social networks and messaging apps such as Telegram, where companies can meet potential reviewers. Once the connection is made, the reviewer chooses a free product, then waits a few days to write a five-star review. After the review is posted, they get a full refund, and, at times, an extra payment.
Amazon has a specific rule against posting reviews in exchange for “compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.” But nine of the 10 top reviewers in the UK seem to have broken that guideline, engaging in suspicious activity. The 20,000 reviews that were removed were written by seven of the top 10 reviewers.
The company was alerted to Fryer’s activity in early August. At least one Amazon user reported the man’s questionable ratings to CEO Jeff Bezos. This user was told the company would investigate, although it failed to take action until today.
Fryer maintains that he definitely did not get paid to post fake five-star ratings, and he says that his eBay listings for “unused” and “unopened” products were extras, according to the Times.
Regardless, his activity is not overly surprising. Fake reviews have been an issue on Amazon for years. In July, The Markup found sellers were engaged in a variety of tactics aimed at manipulating their ratings on the platform, including “review hijacking” where old ratings were attached to new, often unrelated products.
During the coronavirus pandemic, as more people shop online, the problem has only gotten worse. In May, 58 percent of products on Amazon in the UK seemed to have fake reviews, according to Fakespot, a firm that analyzes ratings fraud. “The scale of this fraud is amazing,” Fakespot CEO Saoud Khalifah told the Financial Times. “Amazon UK has a much higher percentage of fake reviews than the other platforms.”
In a statement emailed to The Verge, an Amazon spokesperson said the company analyzes reviews before they go public, processing 10 million submissions every week. “We want Amazon customers to shop with confidence knowing that the reviews they read are authentic and relevant,” they said. “We have clear policies for both reviewers and selling partners that prohibit abuse of our community features, and we suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies.”
Update, 7:21PM ET: This story was updated to include a statement from Amazon.