Even though product reviews on Amazon and other sites are a minefield, customers continue to use them for guidance. Sellers know this and understand the value of a good, 5-star review. In fact, some of them understand this so much that they are willing to pay for these reviews.
Earlier this year, the SafetyDetectives cybersecurity team discovered a 7 GB database which identified vendors and reviewers operating an Amazon review scam.
Apparently, vendors would contact the potential reviewer and offer them a product for posting a 5-star review. They even gave guidelines for the reviewer so that their review would not be identified as fake. Actually, I was contacted by a Chinese company for such a purpose. I was offered some rather bizarre product for free if I would write a review for it. I did not, but, I imagine others may have agreed to go along with the scam. The collaborators in these arrangements escaped detection because they used other channels than Amazon to communicate with each other. In my case, I was contacted through Gmail. It appears that 232,664 Gmail addresses were found in this database. Of course, I can’t confirm mine was one of them, but it’s possible as I’ve given a number of valid product reviews in the past.
I’m sure many people have been offered products or gift certificates for good reviews. Being offered a $50 Amazon gift certificates for a 5-star review is fairly common. Amazon may frown on this practice but it happens all the time.
One of these companies that is on record for offering to pay for a good review is a Chinese company called, Lazle. Among other products, Lazle produces a blood pressure measuring device.
The product has an overall review rating of 4.7 with 82% of reviewers giving it 5 stars. Now, you’d think the company would be happy with this, but, apparently, they were not. In fact, it appears that these good reviews may be grossly inflated, and the following review may explain why.
This reviewer may have been honest, but it begs the question of how many reviewers gave a 5-star review because they felt pressured into it? But there is another problem. It seems that a number of people opted in on the scheme but never received what they were promised.
In fact, many people report that they were given a fake email and phone number to contact. I doubt if anyone ever received a gift certificate or a thermometer. Either that or only those who gave 5-star reviews got these. Amazon should have records that would show how many of these gift certificates were purchased by Lazle. We would then have an idea about how many fake reviews were purchased. Are you listening, Amazon?
Many of those disappointed for not getting their gifts decided to lower their rating for the product. Others lowered their rating because they didn’t like being badgered by the company.
In short, Lazle’s gift certificate scam was exposed. The scam must have cost them good reviews as people found this bribery distasteful. I looked into this using a company called, ReviewMeta, which analyzes the validity of product reviews. For the Lazle blood pressure device, their preliminary assessment was that most reviews were valid. However, they did have a warning. They found more deleted reviews than normal.
Were these deleted reviews from people who never received their payoff for writing them? It’s impossible to tell for sure but it must have been a contributing factor.
In short, the gift scam must not have worked as well as they expected, and Lazle had to find another way to force customers to give them better reviews. They decided to use fear as motivation.
In a recent forum discussion, one of the members released a threatening message his daughter reportedly received from Lazle for writing a negative review of their blood pressure device. Here is that message.
Here is the review that caused the company such concern.
It is quite certain that the company has some details about the buyer who wrote this review. Yes, they may have their purchase number, but how did they get other contact information as Amazon does not release this. How did they know who to contact in order to threaten them?
Amazon does not release this customer information but the person admits to contacting the company’s customer service. They also did not purchase this product through Amazon but directly from the company. Maybe the company asked for some contact details to process the complaint. Maybe they tried bribery first and, when that didn’t work, they attempted a threat. The review implies that the customer purchased the device in August, so maybe they were able to narrow it down that way. Notice that they do not address the customer by anything besides, “Hey you”. You would think that if they had the person’s name or user name, this would be a good time to use it.
Another way these Chinese companies get user information is through the gift card message included in the package with the purchased item. I had such a message in a Chinese-made product I bought. They said if I went to a certain website and registered they would give me a $50 Amazon gift card. Actually, I liked the product and gave it a 4-star review but, though I registered for the gift card, I never received it. To be honest, the site they sent me to looked amateurish but I figured I had nothing to lose. There was no follow-up asking for a 5-star rating.
It should be noted that there are companies and software that can help companies associate a bad review with a hidden email. They usually use some associations they find on social media. For a price, other firms will badger a negative reviewer with emails once they get their address.
In any event, the message did have the desired affect. It did frighten the woman who wrote the review. This is what motivated her father to contact the forum. He wanted to find out if those behind the threat could do what they claimed they could do. The general consensus of the forum was that the company had no one inside Amazon and probably wouldn’t have enough information to take over her account. Actually, if they knew what they were doing, the company could have attempted some sort of phishing attack. But, as others pointed out, if they were really good hackers with someone inside Amazon, they could simply delete the review themselves.
Most tech-savvy users will have no problem ignoring such threats but many average people may worry enough to take down a negative review. In fact, if this new technique works, expect more and more people to be threatened. Amazon has been contacted by a number of people concerning this incident but the company, and this particular product, is still being advertised on Amazon. That said, it is listed as “currently unavailable” which may mean that they are being suspended until Amazon completes an assessment of this situation.
Honest reviews are important. Almost everyone reads them before purchasing a product. However, in the current environment, it is best to ignore 5-star reviews unless they go into great detail on why they like a product so much. In addition, it would help everyone if people report any company trying to bribe them or extort a positive review from them. Throw a 1-star review into the bargain. Amazon simply doesn’t have the resources to do this monitoring on its own so this has to be a grassroots movement to keep reviews as a valid source of valuable information.