Amazon Is Losing the War on Fraudulent Sellers

Excellent article on fraudulent seller tactics on Amazon.

The most prominent black hat companies for US Amazon sellers offer ways to manipulate Amazon's ranking system to promote products, protect accounts from disciplinary actions, and crush competitors. Sometimes, these black hat companies bribe corporate Amazon employees to leak information from the company's wiki pages and business reports, which they then resell to marketplace sellers for steep prices. One black hat company charges as much as $10,000 a month to help Amazon sellers appear at the top of product search results. Other tactics to promote sellers' products include removing negative reviews from product pages and exploiting technical loopholes on Amazon's site to lift products' overall sales rankings.

[...]

AmzPandora's services ranged from small tasks to more ambitious strategies to rank a product higher using Amazon's algorithm. While it was online, it offered to ping internal contacts at Amazon for $500 to get information about why a seller's account had been suspended, as well as advice on how to appeal the suspension. For $300, the company promised to remove an unspecified number of negative reviews on a listing within three to seven days, which would help increase the overall star rating for a product. For $1.50, the company offered a service to fool the algorithm into believing a product had been added to a shopper's cart or wish list by writing a super URL. And for $1,200, an Amazon seller could purchase a "frequently bought together" spot on another marketplace product's page that would appear for two weeks, which AmzPandora promised would lead to a 10% increase in sales.

This was a good article on this from last year. (My blog post.)

Amazon has a real problem here, primarily because trust in the system is paramount to Amazon's success. As much as they need to crack down on fraudulent sellers, they really want articles like these to not be written.

Slashdot thread. Boing Boing post.

Posted on May 9, 2019 at 5:58 AM • 20 Comments

Comments

UthorMay 9, 2019 7:06 AM

I mostly stopped using Amazon because of all the junk on there making it hard to find what I want when browsing (eg, "I need a belt, let's see what's available"). Filtering by things sold through by Amazon and with Prime shipping helps a lot. So does searching for recommendations on other sites and using affiliate links (Wirecutter) or just buying from other stores dedicated to the thing I am looking for.

Hell, I actually go to the store and buy things now because of Amazon becoming hard to use. I find that for electronics, they are now price competitive and allow for easier returns.

PaulMay 9, 2019 8:14 AM

I still use Amazon, but avoid 3rd party sellers completely. Also, never buy batteries or SDHC/flash storage, since Amazon has been mixing their stock with the stock from fraudulent sellers. Even buying only from Amazon doesn't work out for those items.

OTOH, buying a cheap plumbing snake for $5 on AMZ has few risks.

I'll go with a seller that has their security handled before buying direct from some small/mid-sized online retailer who might have been hacked last year and it is just a matter of time before all those records and payment information is leaked. Certainly there are small biz which ARE doing security fine, but I won't risk the hassles of CC data leaks.

IMHO.

YetAnotherBruceMay 9, 2019 8:15 AM

Interesting use of the label "black hat". I don't really object but it was a surprise. The language lives and grows I guess.

SocraticGadflyMay 9, 2019 9:03 AM

This assumes Amazon cares more than the minimum amount to protect its reputation, since it makes more off resellers than it does off its own direct sales.

BenderMay 9, 2019 9:19 AM

I would stay clear of computer parts, especially video cards. The boxes will always be opened, even if sourced by Amazon. The cards are swapped out. This happened to me more than once. I received video cards that were clocked much lower than what I paid for. Amazon censored my feedback on this.

Impossibly StupidMay 9, 2019 10:28 AM

My comment from last year's post still stands, so all I'll say here is that this is not just a problem with Amazon. All systems that can be gamed will be gamed. Modern technology makes it easy to automate on a global scale. If only I could look to the right of the screen and find a good book on this topic. :-)

I used to buy a lot of things online, back when the Internet allowed you to find rare/niche products that seldom got carried by local stores. But when Amazon went from being just a bookseller to trying to be the gatekeeper for everything, I knew things would start to get real ugly for everybody. Now I rarely buy anything online, and what I do get usually comes from companies that also have a local store I can go to if I have any problems. Everything else I try to buy directly from a nearby shop, the smaller the better. We all live in local communities, even if the Internet allows us to be global citizens. I refuse to feel bad about giving $5 more to my neighbors instead of allowing Bezos (or any other executive of a distant company) to become an even bigger billionaire.

VinnyGMay 9, 2019 12:54 PM

@ Uthor @Paul re: Amazon resellers - I mostly agree. However, for me Prime is a bad deal. I rarely order anything in a shorter time frame than is provided by ground shipping, nearly always order >$25 worth of merchandise, and the Free (5 - 8 days) vs Paid Ground (4 - 8 days) shipping is a native-Amazon scam of long standing. Both methods use the same shippers (FedEx or UPS to USPS) and class of service, and the warehouse nearly always consigns to the initial carrier on the next business day. Also agree that it isn't only Amazon. Walmart online sales, in particular, seems to blindly ape every change Amazon makes, for better or worse, and more often than not is inept at the duplication. EBay is variable, but that's apples to oranges. If I am going to buy from a smallish reseller directly, I will typically use eBay, since at least there is no potential for confusion about the relationship. My biggest issue with eBay is the Paypal lock-in, which hopefully disappears in 2020 as promised.

FaustusMay 9, 2019 1:12 PM

Come on! The war on fraudulent sellers? I doubt that Amazon is fighting any such war.

I have noticed that you cannot rely on the seller reviews for Fulfilled by Amazon. The sellers provide non matching or low quality items which Amazon blindly ships for their exorbitant cut and then Amazon just erases the negative feedback. I think there is an implicit agreement that you can sell any garbage as long as it's Fulfilled by Amazon.

In the long run it will work out for the best. Amazon will destroy itself, leaving room for competitors with more integrity.

VRKMay 9, 2019 1:49 PM

"they really want articles like these to not be written"

This, and too many fluid standards, is a tsunami of putrescent sewage we are all paddling toward, blindfolded.

While veterans of Responsible Disclosure risk being "silenced" when they chisel their graffiti in the stone of economics, and retribution against individuals is trivial, it seems, choose your battles wisely.

Consider what a MASTER for [Militant] Odd Fellows once told me:
"I don't want to hear if you've done anything wrong in the past". Oops.

And also, the NSC truck inspection default:
"maybe we can work with you". Ack!

Since whistle blowers obviously have "shortness of breath", how much more frequently will the warm scum of 'brotherhood' crime churn smugly to the surface? Maranatha.

HumdeeMay 9, 2019 3:10 PM

Amazon is losing the war on fraudulent sellers in the same way that Blizzard once lost the war on bots in World of Warcraft. Which is to say that all either company ever cared about is the short-term bottom line and the cash from people who break the rules is just as good as the cash from people who follow the rules.

@bruce writes, "Amazon has a real problem here, primarily because trust in the system is paramount to Amazon's success."

That may have be true in the past but what makes you think it will be true in the future or is true in the present? If a company can make more money violating trust than building trust it has an ethical duty to its shareholders to violate trust.

St-Arnaud PatMay 9, 2019 8:47 PM

If my 2017 Amazon experience was bad, 2018 so far has been disastrous. The number of fake, sub-standard or simply undelivered product for anything non-Prime has skyrocketed.

Even Prime is no longer a warranty insomuch as I've had grey market (no support) products fail on delivery that ware sold and shipped by Amazon and very obviously warehouse repacked with missing parts (I missed that at original inspection, my fault), and that were not returnable (no refund) because of partial assembly. So don't count on A-to-Z to be A-to-Z either.

Anyway, this does not lead to a pleasant experience and, after a rather busy 8 years - new house, and all that - I join those here going back to brick-and-mortar for many things.

mrfoxMay 10, 2019 3:12 PM

My wife's old amazon account got hijacked by one of these review-mills. Luckily no (valid) credit card was on the account; they used gift cards. She found out about it because friends asked why she kept sending them phone cases and chargers.

She called AMZN many times; they didn't care much, and the scam went on for quite a while.

Sherman JerroldMay 10, 2019 3:37 PM

It is the considered opinion by all in our office that amazin probably doesn't care about these fraudsters and the breaches in personal security they cause, because amazin itself was based on deceit and bullying.

from a website:
-- Perceptive people saw that when if first started, it used lawsuit threats to beat-up a wonderful, small bookstore and steal their website address: amazon.com. Then they saw it set out to ruin all small bookstores everywhere. Now, they see it as a huge invasive behemoth that bullies and destroys local and small businesses throughout the world while abusing people and stealing private info, much like google, malwart and facebook.

Even though ignorant sheople flock to it,
Astute, careful people of good conscience avoid all interaction with amazon.
Instead, they find and support honest smaller businesses that offer good value. --

I know of some people who don't care they are dealing with one of the most unethical companies on the planet. All they care about (in their selfish little minds) is that it is so easy and so cheap to feed amazin and help amazin to destroy ethical local businesses.

Jesse ThompsonMay 10, 2019 4:48 PM

To everyone who is accusing Amazon of "making money off the fraudsters", how could it possibly make more money that way than by simply committing the fraud themselves? Why involve a third party if that was really their aim?

If they were really going to ship "any garbage sellers wanted as long as it was fulfilled by amazon", then why wouldn't they cut out the middle man and ship as many of their own bricks in boxes as they pleased?

That's what Ashley Madison did after all, wasn't it? They actually made the female-facing side of their website in so bad of disrepair that actual women couldn't create and gainfully use an account if they even tried.

on guardMay 11, 2019 2:59 PM

On guard: a bit more on fraud

Amazon might have a bit more success in combatting the fraud if they continue to improve their 1-800 toll free customer service telephone number. I got through it once after much difficulty and they were able to successfully shut down and clear out my stolen account; but only after much stalling and stonewalling me as if I'd hacked my own account (which I hadn't). Still, I didn't lose any financial accounts thanks to getting the account intentionally purged and shutdown and removed. I recommend that approach to anyone who suspects a stolen amazon password account.

This bit reminds me of the first time I heard formally about internet fraud, I believe it was way back around the year 2002, or perhaps earlier, during the late 1990s (when I had a dialup connection). Either way, it was long enough ago that I can't remember quite when.

Nonetheless, I recall that the FCC that day reported that fraud had gone up 5000 percent since the advent of the internet.

In modern times, that number now seems rather modest in comparison to what I anticipate is the up-to-the-minute percentage.

Fraud seems to be more of the terrible norm, rather than the terrible rarity.
While stability and truthful justice are now serendipitous wonderful rarities.
Yet they still happen, and can eventually reset this temporary mess to a status much better than this abyssmally descending status quo.

In closing, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-A4zT8wp8E

("The Unfixable Thought Machine" displays fine at 240p-360p; no need for "hi-res")

A nice video ^^^ which effortly sums up much of the status quo (ironically of the last few decades) in a way which might bring a smile to the faces of previous victims.

Why, I'm smiling right now, and nobody has burst into the room to arrest me for my happiness. Even though, 100% truth: a fraudulent medical doctor once literally told me in person that my problem was that I was "too successful", that my problem was "too much success". I kid you not!

This is part of why I'm so jaded now; the old bloke really did try to "cure" my success with a lifetime supply of prescribed poison. I can attest to it's potency as well; a 24-hour heart monitor, an EKG, several self-run AB tests, and a heart sonogram all confirmed that the prescribed neurotoxins were killing me (until I stopped and ran very far away!). While this is "mild" anecdote and it may put me at further risk of being harmed again, I just thought you ({all of you: plural}) ought to know.

This is a good time to pause and consider the cross-references between:

Iatrogenic* Damages Security & Safety

I hope ya all had an effective Mayday (May 1st, 2019).
*=you will really want to look up the definition of the term "iatrogenic" from several official printed dictionaries published before the year 1999.

EOT

ChrisMay 11, 2019 7:51 PM

Amazon has shown no interest in preventing counterfeit and low quality sellers from clogging their listings and destroying discoverability on their site. Apparel is a 50,000 page unsorted and incorrectly labelled JCPenny bargain table and everything in the category is fake.

They actively promote fraud and trademark infringement and luxury consumer and electronics brands are fleeing the site in droves. Their goal is to become a faster shipping version of Aliexpress with an easily disrupted grocery side business.

DroneMay 11, 2019 11:43 PM

Ha! Amazon... What a cesspool that place has become. Look at this sale page for a $24 400GB Micro SD card that's been up on Amazon for ages. It has at my post time a FIVE AND A HALF STAR rating (out of five) with 797 customer reviews. ALL the reviews are FAKE! They've been stolen from a different sale page and somehow transplanted. I see these scam sales all the time. I used to contact Amazon about these pages when I would see them up for ages polluting product searches. I didn't even get the courtesy of an auto-responder reply from Amazon. If they don't clean this up, competitors who actually care about their customers will leave Amazon in the dust. Here's the fake SD card link (it was working at my post time: 12-May-2019, 00:43 EDT/04:43 UTC):

SCORDERS 512 GB Micro SD Card with Adapter (Class 10 Speed) Memory Storage for Cameras, Tablets, Smartphones, and Laptops | Store Data, Music, Pictures, Video
by SCORDERS. 4.7 out of 5 stars 797 customer reviews, 112 answered questions, Price: $24.99. PRIME eligible. Sold by SCORDERS and Fulfilled by Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/SCORDERS-Adapter-Storage-Smartphones-Pictures/dp/B07RL7DCHN

justinacolmenaMay 13, 2019 1:28 PM

fraudulent seller tactics on Amazon.

The most prominent black hat companies for US Amazon sellers offer ways to manipulate Amazon's ranking system to promote products, protect accounts from disciplinary actions, and crush competitors. Sometimes, these black hat companies bribe corporate Amazon employees

A vicious gang of small-town police officers in cahoots with "local" brick-and-mortar shops are responsible for the black-hat tactics on Amazon.

It's actually a labor dispute. Local cops in solid Democrat blue with a gun and a badge are quietly standing in solidarity with retail and hospitality labor unions and small business associations, SEIU, Chamber of Commerce, etc. to protect the local brick-and-mortar retail cartel & shut out competitors.

My experience and POV are those of a limited choice of goods and services for consumers in Alaska, high prices, and continual hostility and aggression by mercenary brick-and-mortar shopkeepers.

FaustusMay 15, 2019 9:10 AM

@ Jesse Thompson

I am not sure why Amazon accepts low quality Fulfilled by Amazon. Maybe it's too expensive to police. Maybe they feel that allowing returns addresses the issue. For me this is often not possible.

I am not saying it's their aim to defraud. But inaction seems to serve them. You must understand how Amazon benefits from significant fees and less money devoted to inventory.

Erasing negative reviews for one's own service is pretty creepy.

I think there is a certain level of arrogance at Amazon, the feeling its customers have nowhere else to go.

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