British shoppers deceived by misleading Amazon product reviews

James Cook
Facebook groups have been promoting fake Amazon product reviews - AP

British shoppers are being deceived into buying products online by unscrupulous sellers on Amazon using fake and paid-for reviews, an investigation has found.

The investigation by Which?, the consumer magazine, found Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members were being offered free or discounted products in exchange for positive reviews.

The publication discovered several Facebook groups, with names such as Amazon Deals Group and Amazon UK Reviewers.

Amazon sellers encouraged people to purchase specific items via the platform and then review them. After the review was published, the Amazon sellers promised to provide a refund of the cost of the item through PayPal, and sometimes sent a bonus payment.

Which? purchased five items on Amazon and wrote reviews for them as instructed. Three out of the five purchases were not refunded. In two cases, the reviews were not considered positive enough.

Which? gave one of the promoted products, a smartwatch, a two-star review and did not receive a refund of the purchase price. The Amazon seller told them to rewrite the review because in the case of a free item given to reviewers, it “is the default to give five-star evaluation.”

Another seller promoting wireless headphones said that a “refund will be done after a good five-star review with some photo,” raising the issue that misleading five-star reviews have been posted on Amazon in return for refunds.

A Facebook spokesman said in a statement to Which? that groups promoting fake reviews were against its terms of service. 

“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,” the spokesman said.

Two of the groups used by Which? Appear to have been deleted, however, many other fake review groups remain on the site.

In 2016, Amazon banned paid-for reviews which don't take place through its own Vine review programme.  The Vine scheme stops sellers influencing the content of reviews and automatically adds a disclosure to reviews on the site.

A spokesman for the company said earlier this year that fake reviews made up less than 1pc of reviews posted on the site.

An Amazon spokesman told Which? “We do not permit reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment. Customers and sellers must follow our review guidelines and those that don’t will be subject to action including potential termination of their account."