Amazon sues sellers for buying fake reviews

Seller beware — if you buy reviews for your products on Amazon, the company might sue you.

As part of its effort to combat fake reviews on its platform, Amazon sued three of its sellers today for using sock puppet accounts to post fake reviews about their products. Amazon has been aggressively pursuing reviewers it does not consider genuine over the last year, often using lawsuits to discourage the buying and selling of reviews, but this is the first time it has sued the sellers themselves.

Today’s suits are against sellers who Amazon claims used fake accounts to leave positive reviews on their own products. The fake reviews spanned from 30 to 45 percent of the sellers’ total reviews. The defendants are Michael Abbara of California, Kurt Bauer of Pennsylvania, and a Chinese company called CCBetter Direct.

Amazon is asking for the defendants to be banned from selling products on any of its sites or accessing its services. The suits also ask for the profits the sellers made on Amazon, attorneys’ fees, and damages exceeding $25,000. [Update 6/3, 9:22 a.m.: Amazon is demanding arbitration of the cases, which means they are likely to proceed more quickly than if Amazon were to go to court, and will not play out in the public eye.]

Amazon says that, since early 2015, it has sued over 1,000 people who posted fake reviews for cash. Now, the company is going after the retailers themselves. Amazon said that it intends to eliminate incentives for sellers to buy fake reviews for their products.

“Our goal is to eliminate the incentives for sellers to engage in review abuse and shut down this ecosystem around fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

Amazon employs a number of methods to combat fake reviews, including suspending sellers and shutting down their accounts. The online retailer is also working to develop algorithms to detect fake reviews and prevent them from appearing at all. Last summer, it started ranking trusted reviews so that shoppers would see those first.

Between the lawsuits and algorithms, Amazon says it is having success against fake reviews. “The vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions every day,” a spokesperson said.