'I keep getting the same phone case over and over': How Amazon's review system is ripe for abuse
- Last week, hundreds of Amazon shoppers took to social media to complain that their accounts had been mysteriously closed over the past week.
- Amazon claimed that these customers had violated its terms of service and told Business Insider it "has taken action against bad actors."
- Business Insider found a Facebook group that showed the extent to which customers and sellers are abusing its reviews system.
- Some customers are receiving products that they had not ordered. Experts believe that sellers could be creating fake accounts and sending products to random addresses in order to leave "verified reviews."
Last week, hundreds of Amazon customers were up in arms after the retailer shut down access to their accounts without warning.
On Thursday, Amazon sent a mass email to those impacted, stating that they had either broken the company's review policy or used the account for "commercial purposes."A company spokesperson confirmed this to Business Insider in a statement on Friday: "Amazon has taken action against bad actors and those who have violated our community rules. If any customers believe their account has been closed in error, we encourage them to contact us directly so we can review their account and take appropriate action."
According to conversations Business Insider had with 29 different Amazon shoppers and sellers, a subculture geared towards driving sales through reviews has arisen on the site, and some are using underhanded tactics - including sharing discount codes and sending shoppers free products in exchange for reviews - to do so.
Amazon is now making an aggressive push towards stamping these practices out.
Several customers told Business Insider they had not written reviews for discounted or free products since Amazon changed its terms in 2016 to stop incentivized reviews. Others in a Facebook group called Amazon Blacklist admitted to reviewing products and being reimbursed by sellers on PayPal.
Random, unsolicited packages
Alongside this, sellers are coming up with innovative ways to get around Amazon's rules.
In February, Business Insider reported that multiple people in the US and Canada were receiving packages that they hadn't ordered. Some experts speculated that sellers could be creating fake accounts and sending products to random addresses, then leaving glowing "verified reviews."Here's how the scheme works: A seller lists a product on the website, then creates a fake account to buy the item and send it somewhere random. That account can then leave a glowing "verified review," which is worth a lot to the seller.
Several customers who were impacted by the account closures confirmed to Business Insider that they, too, had received random packages. It is not yet clear whether the two are connected.
"I have gotten packages I have not ordered," Amazon shopper Angela Smith told Business Insider. "I keep getting the same phone case over and over and over for the past four months without ordering them at all."
Another Amazon customer, Katrina Rasnake, told Business Insider a similar story.
"I have gotten a random package before, it was one of those strapless/backless bras. It wasn't even my size, nowhere near my size actually," she said.
"There was no gift receipt or anything. I still have no clue who it came from."
In February, Amazon denied that the random packages were due to customer review abuse.
The company said in a statement: "We have found very few reviews written on these shipments and we remove any reviews that we do find immediately. Only the sender can write a verified purchase review and still must meet the minimum requirements. The sender cannot write a review on behalf of the receiver. Our review detection systems are trained to catch this type of behavior and we will continue our ongoing efforts to detect and prevent abuse."But some customers - including Lorna C., an Amazon Prime member from Arizona - are still bemused by what is going on. Lorna, who asked that her last name not be used, was once a reviewer on Amazon and accepted products at a discount. But, she was barred from posting reviews on Amazon after she and her daughter duplicated a product review, which was a violation of the site's terms.
"I got a full face snorkel mask and I live in the desert; there's no water here," Lorna said.