What The Tech: Fake Amazon reviews and Facebook

What the Tech

Think you can spot fake reviews on Amazon? It’s getting trickier.

A new report by researchers at UCLA finds sellers are taking to Facebook to get around
Amazon’s algorithm that spots fake reviews by looking for certain keywords and phrases and
the frequency the reviews are submitted.

Sellers and shoppers are connecting in Facebook groups for Amazon reviews. I found dozens
of private groups where sellers post photos of their products looking for reviews and ask people
who are interested to send a private message for information.

Once a reviewer is accepted by the seller, they’re given the name of the product and a
photograph of its listing on Amazon. Rather than clicking a link sent from the seller, this makes it
appear that the buyer searched Amazon.com for a product category and ended up choosing the
product they want. This gives the review more credibility and may slip past tools Amazon
employs to spot fakes.

The reviewer will then purchase the product from their account, pay for it with their credit card
and have it shipped to their home. In Amazon’s eyes, it looks like any other legitimate purchase.
Once the shopper writes the review and submits it to Amazon for posting, the seller will refund
the full price of the product including shipping and any other fees. Some sellers also offer a flat
rate or percentage in exchange for the review.

Many of the posts I saw in the Facebook groups are from sellers looking for “honest reviews”
and some may be. But you’d have to suspect that at least some reviews are going to be positive
since the reviewer is getting the product for free.

One item I found advertised in the Facebook group is a digital writing tablet, similar to an iPad,
but a brand I’d never heard of before. The tablet currently has 4 and a half stars and 159
ratings. Since most of those reviews are 5 stars, the product appears near the top of Amazon’s
results when I searched for a “pro graphics tablet”.

The trouble with this tactic is that once the offer goes out in the Facebook groups and the
reviews are submitted, the product may leap to the top of that Amazon product category but
won’t stay there if sales of the product suddenly drop to nothing.

The UCLA study came to the conclusion that “Soliciting fake reviews on Facebook leads to a
significant increase in average rating and sales rank but the effect disappears after roughly 1
month.” With Amazon Prime Day just two weeks away and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday
fast approaching, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that soliciting fake reviews on Facebook
will increase.

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