Massive database of fake Amazon reviews exposed

Cybersecurity researchers find 'organized fake reviews scam' with 13 million records

Buyer beware. A major source of fake Amazon reviews lurks out there.  

A server containing direct messages between Amazon vendors and customers who provide fake reviews was discovered by the cybersecurity website SafetyDetectives.

Described as an "organized fake reviews scam," the server contains over 13 million records – about 7 GB of data – potentially involving more than 200,000 people in unethical activities, the SafetyDetectives report said.

Fakery on Amazon, including not only fake reviews but fake products, is a problem that the retailer is always grappling with.

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Amazon uses machine learning tools and human investigators to analyze over 10 million review submissions weekly, a company spokesperson told FOX Business.

"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," Amazon said.

But despite Amazon’s best efforts, fake reviews persist because reviewers and organizations can realize monetary or material gains.

One of the more common schemes is to compensate a reviewer with a free product in return for a positive review.

Amazon uses machine learning tools and human investigators to analyze over 10 million review submissions weekly. (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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A report earlier this year from the consumer group "Which?" said fake reviews for products sold on Amazon are being sold online "in bulk."

The consumer group found multiple websites offering "review manipulation services" with some offering free or discounted products "in exchange for reviews, or sales campaigns for sellers to boost their positive reviews."

One company has tens of thousands of reviewers who are used to help "products become best sellers," the consumer group said.

How the fake review process works

Here’s how the process generally works, according to SafetyDetectives:

Rogue Amazon vendors send reviewers a list of items/products for which they would like a five-star review. The people providing the fake reviews will then buy the products, leaving a five-star review on Amazon. The fake reviewer will send a message to the vendor containing a link to their Amazon profile, along with their PayPal details. The reviewer will then receive a refund through PayPal, keeping the items they bought for free as a form of payment.

There are red flags that consumers should be aware of, SafetyDetectives said, such as if a product has too many over-the-top positive reviews, for example.  

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A fake review may also smack of being an advertisement. It may say negative things about competitors. Or a review may be full of "generic" statements that "generally lack variance," SafetyDetectives said.

Websites such as ReviewMeta can be helpful.

ReviewMeta analyzes Amazon product reviews and filters out reviews that its algorithm detects as "unnatural." ReviewMeta generates an adjusted rating that is intended to be more accurate than Amazon’s.