Consumer watchdog uncovers Facebook fake review factories
- Undercover researchers for Which? set up dedicated Amazon and Facebook accounts and asked to join several of the ‘rewards for reviews’ groups
Fake review factories that run on Facebook and manufacture misleading five-star reviews that are then posted on Amazon have been uncovered by investigators from Which?
The consumer group said two large Facebook groups – Amazon Deals Group and Amazon UK Reviewers – were behind the unscrupulous practice, along with smaller groups. Together they may have up to 87,000 members potentially engaged in writing fake reviews.
In the Facebook groups, companies post details of products they want positive reviews. The reviewers pay for the items so that Amazon believes the buyer is genuine but after leaving a glowing review, the company refunds the price through PayPal – sometimes paying an additional fee.
Undercover researchers for Which? set up dedicated Amazon and Facebook accounts and asked to join several of the “rewards for reviews” groups.
“They were instructed to order a specified item through Amazon, write a review and share a link to the review once it was published. Following the successful publication of the review, a refund for the cost of the item would then be paid via PayPal,” said Which?
But the Which? investigators turned the tables on the fake review factories by posting their honest opinion on the product.
In one example, the investigator gave the product – a smartwatch – a two-star review.
“They were told by the seller to rewrite it because the product was free, so it ‘is the default to give five-star evaluation’,” said Which?
In another, the investigator was told a “refund will be done after a good five-star review with some photo” after receiving a pair of wireless headphones. But after posting a three-star review with photos they were told they would not be refunded unless they wrote a five-star review. The investigator refused, so was not refunded.
When The Guardian searched the Amazon UK Reviewers Facebook group – which has more than 25,000 members – it found postings appearing almost every couple of minutes from companies around the world offering to pay for positive reviews. For example, on Friday, one company wanted “UK reviewers only” for a “4k action camera waits for review Refund via PayPal just send me your amazon profile”.
The postings reveal the globalised nature of the review factories, with what appear to be mostly manufacturers from the Far East looking for consumers in Western markets to access Amazon and post the reviews.
Bogus online reviews have plagued the internet for years and Which? said they are still highly influential. As part of its investigation, it polled Which? members and found 97 per cent read online reviews when researching a product – but three in 10 (31 per cent) were disappointed after buying a product that had excellent feedback scores.
“Sellers are effectively ripping people off with paid-for reviews,” said Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services. “They do not represent an honest and impartial opinion but instead mislead people into buying products that they might have otherwise avoided.”
Which? shared its findings with Amazon and Facebook.
Amazon responded: “We do not permit reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment. Customers and marketplace sellers must follow our review guidelines and those that do not will be subject to action including potential termination of their account.”
It said a “small fraction of reviews” violated its guidelines.
Facebook said: “Facilitating or encouraging the trade of fake user reviews is not permitted on Facebook. We urge people to use our reporting tools to flag content they suspect may violate our standards so that we can take swift action.”
In September, a man was imprisoned in Italy for selling fake Trip Advisor reviews in a landmark court ruling. He offered his services to hundreds of hotels and restaurants across Italy, but a court found writing fake reviews under a false identity was a illegal under Italian law.