by LawInc Staff
April 13, 2015
Last week, Amazon filed a lawsuit against four websites in order to prevent them from selling fake product reviews on its website.
The suit, which was filed in Washington State Superior Court, claimed that the product evaluations deceive consumers and undermine the trust that customers place in Amazon while tarnishing its brand.
In its claim for trademark infringement, the online retail giant states the websites are using the company’s name and logo without permission.
Additionally, the company is accusing the websites of cybersquatting by taking domain names similar to Amazon’s own domain name.
Amazon has requested the court to force the websites to stop selling the reviews, cease using its name, and pay triple damages and attorney’s fees.
Defendants include Jay Gentile who allegedly runs buyazonreviews.com and the website operators of buyamazonreviews.com, buyreviewsnow.com, and bayreviews.net. Buyazonreviews.com price list ranges from selling 3 reviews for as low as $74.26 to 200 reviews for $4,887.50.
Mark Collins, the owner of buyamazonreviews.com contends that those who provide reviews “only post honest reviews” although he admits that they do get free and discounted products in return for posting their reviews. Amazon said it was not their policy to comment on active lawsuits.
Posting comments and reviews of products on Amazon’s website have long been a key aspect of shopping on its site. Ever since the very first review in 1995 of Dr. Seuss’s “The Butter Battle Book” was posted, customers have used Amazon’s reviews to determine which products to buy and which to forgo.
Though this is the first time Amazon has taken legal action since the review system has been in place, Amazon has had numerous problems distinguishing between real and fake product reviews in the past. In 2004, a glitch in Amazon Canada showed that many book reviews were written by authors of the books themselves or of competing books. In 2010, a Cincinnati news blog discovered that a public relations company had written more than 75 book reviews on Amazon for books written by its clients.
Amazon is not the only company firing back at those who post fake reviews. This past February, Yelp filed suit against three websites that promised to provide positive reviews for local businesses. From the lawsuits filed by both Amazon and Yelp, it is clear that active steps can and need to be taken when these reviews are posted.
To determine whether a review of your product or service is fraudulent, there are a number of steps you can take:
1. Examine the Content of the Review
When you are inspecting the review itself, ask yourself if the reviewer is too complimentary or too excited about the product of service. While it is natural for reviewers to be enthusiastic about a product or service, fake reviews take this to an extreme. Excessive punctuation and overly positive language are often hints to watch out for. Additionally, scrutinize how the reviewer describes and details the product or service. If the reviewer simply reiterates the same words that could be found on the product’s spec sheet, this may be an indication that the reviewer has not taken the time and trouble to actually test the product.
2. Find Out Who Wrote the Review
Often times, marketing and public relation companies may set up a fake account or name simply to write a review of a particular product or service. Therefore, it is important to click on the reviewer’s name or username to determine whether he or she has written about anything else. If that viewer has a history of writing multiple reviews, scan those reviews for similar language. If a reviewer comments on multiple products or services and uses the same language, this may indicate that the user is being paid to review the product and has been too lazy to hide that fact. Moreover, check the timing between each review. Often times, positive reviews that appear within minutes of each other do not actually indicate they come from a real customer.
3. Determine if the Site Allows You to Verify and Report the Reviewer
Check to see if the site allows you to verify who has made the review. For example, Amazon marks reviews that are purchased through the site as “Amazon Verified Purchase,” allowing you to determine whether or not the reviewer actually purchased the item from Amazon. Additionally many consumer websites that depend on user-generated content, such as Amazon and Yelp, allow you to contact them to discuss whether the review is fraudulent and thus, worthy of removal.
4. File a Complaint With the FTC
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose mission includes clearing the marketplace of “unfair and deceptive marketing,” has the authority to impose penalties and even shut down businesses that engage in the posting of fake online reviews. The FTC has included guidelines for reviews including stating that all endorsements or testimonials must be truthful and must not mislead in any way. Additionally, if there is a connection between the reviewer and a business that would affect the review itself, the relationship between the reviewer and the business must be disclosed. Finally, paid endorsements, while not illegal, can be considered deceptive if they make false or misleading claims. If you believe you have found a fake review that follows the above guidelines, you can file a complaint with the FTC and/or speak with an attorney.
Therefore, it is important to examine every review read online carefully and thoroughly. This includes checking the reviewer’s background and whether or not the site allows you to verify and report the reviewer.
Following the above steps will alert you to ultimately distinguishing between fake and real reviews, allowing you to be much more informed the next time you buy a product or service online.