Families are being duped into buying shoddy goods by fake reviews on Amazon.
A Daily Mail investigation found the glowing appraisals are sold for £13 a time by rogue marketing firms.
The companies use an army of ‘testers’ to post the four- and five-star reviews online.
The testers are given a small fee and a refund for the cost of buying the products they have to recommend. One review firm, AMZTigers of Germany, boasts of having 3,000 UK testers.
A Daily Mail investigation found families are being duped into buying shoddy goods by fake reviews on Amazon (stock image)
Its website says: ‘We help you get verified reviews from real people. Our more than 60,000 product testers throughout Europe specialise in writing reviews quickly and reliably.’
An employee told a Mail reporter posing as a potential client: ‘It is 15 euros per review but much cheaper when you buy a package. If you don’t like the comments and we can change the tester. It’s not really legal but it’s not really unlegal [sic]. So it’s like in a grey zone.’
She admitted the company had faced legal action from Amazon, which had deleted some reviews.
‘This is a subject that is always very dynamic. It’s always changing. What you do in the summer is not always the same as in the winter,’ she said.
She added that four-star reviews were increasingly commissioned: ‘If everything was just like five stars with very good reviews it’s a bit suspicious so it’s good when it has a mix.’
Glowing appraisals are sold for £13 a time by rogue marketing firms (stock image)
The AMZTigers website lists a number of packages available to customers, including 500 reviews for 5,000 euros (£4,250), the equivalent of ten euros (£8.50) each. The client pays AMZTigers for the cost of the item purchased by the tester and a fee for every fake review. The testers must buy the products themselves to ensure the reviews are classified as ‘Amazon Verified Purchases’. They receive a refund and a small fee.
The UK Competition and Markets Authority says fake reviews are illegal and writing or commissioning them can lead to civil or criminal action. It estimates that £23billion a year of spending is influenced by online reviews.
Amazon says it has a ‘zero tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers’. It added: ‘We don’t allow anyone to write reviews as a form of promotion.’ AMZTigers did not respond to requests for comment last night.
Ninety-seven per cent of shoppers rely on online customer reviews to help make a purchase, according to a survey of 2,000 adults conducted by Which?
The consumer group revealed in October that millions of Amazon shoppers are at risk of being misled by dubious and fake reviews.
Headphones, vacuum cleaners, dash cams and Bluetooth speakers, had positive recommendations on the website despite Which? saying that the products had fared poorly in its tests.
Adam French of Which? said: ‘Fake and incentivised reviews have become a highly profitable global industry. Unscrupulous firms are finding it far too easy to game the system on popular websites including Amazon.
‘With online reviews influencing more than £20billion a year in transactions in the UK, it is vital that consumers are not being misled, so the world’s biggest websites must do more to crack down on fakers.
The testers are given a small fee and a refund for the cost of buying the products they have to recommend (stock image)
‘This strengthens the case for further intervention from the CMA to investigate how fake reviews are being used to manipulate consumers and to take strong action against sites that fail to tackle this problem.’
Tech industry expert David Li said there were ‘hundreds, maybe thousands’ of fake review companies, most of them in China.
‘The wholesalers have to fight for their ranking and this has produced a cottage industry in organised companies helping sellers get their company top on the listings,’ he said.
Most of the Chinese fake review companies use locals but the more sophisticated operations recruit students in the US and the UK because users with computers connected to the internet in these countries get higher rankings on Amazon.
Mr Li added: ‘As long as Amazon ranks the product this business will exist and the issue will always be there. Amazon needs to do more. They need to tweak their algorithm to catch fake reviewers better and penalise them.’
Heiko Dunkel, a lawyer at the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, said commissioning or writing false reviews was not explicitly unlawful in Germany.
But he said using such reviews without sufficient transparency could contravene legislation against unfair competition.
Amazon said it was ‘relentless’ in its efforts to protect the integrity of reviews and had spent £300million in the past year to shield customers from abuse, fraud, and other forms of misconduct.
A spokesman added: ‘Our objective is to catch and remove abusive reviews before a customer ever sees it and in the last month over 99 per cent of the reviews read by customers were authentic.
‘To do this, we use a combination of automated technology and teams of trained human investigators who analyse multiple data points such as reviewer, seller, and/or product history to determine authenticity.’
Many fake reviewers are recruited through social media groups. Those who join the ‘Amazon review’ pages of Facebook are approached by sellers and offered their product free plus a small commission for writing a glowing write-up.
The CMA said this year that it had found troubling evidence of a ‘thriving marketplace for fake and misleading online reviews’.
It has written to Facebook and eBay urging them to conduct an urgent appraisal of their sites.