Aug 10, 2022 - Economy & Business

Scoop: Amazon lawsuit accuses company of selling fake seller feedback

Illustration of three stars, one of which is wearing a fake nose, mustache and glasses disguise.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In what Amazon calls a first, the e-retailer on Tuesday sued a Rhode Island man and his company for allegedly selling fake, 5-star reviews to bolster seller feedback of third-party retailers who peddle products on Amazon.com.

Driving the news: The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges that Trey King and his online business, AuctionSentinel.com, has been selling fake "verified feedback" to retailers, and posting reviews to "artificially inflate sellers' feedback ratings in the Amazon.com store."

  • "Defendants are actively deceiving Amazon's customers and tarnishing Amazon's brand for their own profit, as well as for the profit of dishonest sellers," the lawsuit alleges.

Why it matters: The suit is Amazon's first aimed at stopping "fake review brokers" who attempt to manipulate product reviews by the posting of fake seller feedback as part of a broader effort to crack down on deceitful practices across its retail site, per the company.

The other side: King did not immediately respond to several phone and email messages seeking comment on Tuesday.

Between the lines: As of early Tuesday, King described himself on his company's website as an eCommerce business expert with 21 years of experience, including running his own stores on eBay and Amazon.

  • "I do not care for being flashy and extra like some 'Gurus' you find online," his website bio said. "I'm an average person just like you; I just happen to have excessive knowledge of eCommerce subjects."
  • The bio was removed from the website later Tuesday.

State of play: Among the services marketed on Auction Sentinel as of early Tuesday were "Amazon feedback" packages offering to "make real purchases on your Amazon account and turn them into 5-Star Positive Feedback."

  • The options ranged in price from a $300 "basic" package offering 10 reviews for a single store, to an $800 "enterprise" package for 100 reviews for six online stores.
  • Later Tuesday, King's website added a disclaimer in red lettering, saying it "does not sell product revieves (sic)."

Details: The 19-page suit alleges violations by King and his company of the Washington Consumer Protection Act and breaches of Amazon.com's contract provisions.

  • It seeks court orders prohibiting King and his business from selling future reviews and identifying previous feedback sold, and profits made.
  • The suit also asks the court to award Amazon with damages and legal costs to be determined.

What they're saying: "Attempting to manipulate seller feedback is unfair to customers and to honest Amazon selling partners," Kebharu Smith, Amazon's associate general counsel and director of its Counterfeit Crimes Unit, told Axios in an emailed statement Tuesday.

Background: While the lawsuit against an allegedly "fake review broker" that peddles seller feedback is a first for the company, Amazon has been ramping up efforts to crack down on fraud and counterfeiting broadly.

  • Last year, Amazon sued more than 170 individuals and enterprises for allegedly selling counterfeit items on its website, and sued or referred over 600 cases for investigation in the U.S., Europe and China, per a spokesperson.
  • The company has spent more than $900 million and hired more than 12,000 people to guard against fraud and has prevented over 2.5 million suspected "bad actors" selling accounts, according to two counterfeiting suits filed last month.
Go deeper