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Jan 8, 2021
Business 2 Community Photo Courtesy of Steven W. Giovinco/Recover Reputation Someone Wrote Fake Amazon Reviews Under My Name: Here’s the Hidden Online Reputation Damage It Can Cause Strangely, Amazon packages began to arrive. It’s always fun to open a box and see what’s inside–however, since I didn’t order anything, this was like no other delivery. Actually, I was caught in the middle of an elaborate and convoluted online reputation management review scam. It all started strangely enough with one hundred colored balloons. When the small package arrived, I simply thought it was an odd mistake from Amazon. Next came a pair of oversized day-glow red rubber grill cooking gloves (which I also didn’t order). Was this a goof or gag gift? When a box of false eyelashes arrived (I am male), I knew something strange was happening. (I also got a toy racing car, a pair of wireless headphones, and an exercise-tracking device.) Not only did I NOT order any of these items, but they were charged to someone ELSE’S credit card. In semi-sleuth mode, I confirmed that my credit card was never charged. This seemed like an odd scam: when do you get something for free? I also realized there was no immediate connection between the Amazon orders–they seemed random and from a wide-range of unrelated product categories. However, I quickly discovered: Reviews were exuberant over-the-top raves, but crafted in poor English. Credit cards were different for almost each item, and originated from overseas. Orders were placed about every two weeks, starting at the first and fifteenth of the month (perhaps designed to avoid detection?). Products cost on the low end, ranging from $10 to $70. In reality, this was a strange but convoluted scam to generate positive online reviews. Welcome to the dark world of reputation management fakery. Reputation Review Scam So how does it work? A third party (i.e., thieves) steals someone’s credit card information, which is presumably purchased by an unscrupulous reputation management company. They then find a real person’s name and address, create a new Amazon account, and start ordering modestly-priced products, probably to remain initially undetected. As soon as the order goes through, the reputation review company now has a verified purchaser–the key to their scam–where they immediately write glowing but false reviews on behalf of their clients. The real reason to go through multiple levels of illegality is to get access to real people to write real-sounding feedback on Amazon which is very valuable. Since positive reviews drive sales, these false posts are extremely helpful in reversing a damaged reputation due to poor service or give the impression that a bad product is actually a great one. The Perfect Online Reputation Management Scam/Crime? In a way, this seems like the perfect “reputation crime”. At first glance, it seems like no one is really harmed. It’s hard to trace the unscrupulous hired reputation management review company and they don’t care that they are engaging in multiple illegal activities (but of course they should). Also, they are not “paying” for real products, because they are using stolen credit cards, and thus are not out-of-pocket additional expenses. The unsuspecting Amazon purchaser–in this case me–doesn’t seem to be harmed in this scenario either. I’m sure some people who received unordered packages don’t bother to report the mistaken delivery orders (I returned them), and decide to keep the items. The credit card owner seems unharmed too because they can detect and dispute the false charges–after all, they never received anything. Eventually, in theory at least, Amazon gets their products back. Hidden Reputation Management Damage So who gets hurt? The unwilling participant in the scam. There is a hidden reputation problem that can get lost in the process. Of course, never try to buy online reviews yourself: it’s flat-out illegal in almost all cases and can lead to problems you might not have considered. But in this scam, the person whose name is used in the reviews could have their online reputation damaged. How? What if a client comes across the false Amazon reviews. A fairly quick glance, people can easily sense something is wrong or immediately detect the bogus posts. This can result in lost trust in the business. If/when a current client or prospective one discovers these reviews, the results can be far from innocent. Customers would wonder if they–the business they’ve already dealt with, or in this case, me–are real or fake, and would probably conclude they are not trustworthy. So, this seemingly “victimless crime” can actually have some very real-world troubles that could result in lost business and sales for the reputation victim. How to Determine Fake Reviews Here are some tell-tale signs used to spot fake reviews, which, not coincidentally, are what I saw too: Product reviews from the writer cover an unrealistically wide range of diverse and unrelated items, indicating that something is fishy. English usage and phrasing is poor or incorrect, showing that it was written by someone overseas or who’s second language is English. All are consistently exuberant and over-the-top five star reviews. Reviewer profile is incomplete, lacks a real profile photo or has a generic or empty bio section. How to Protect Your Online Reputation If this comes up, contact Amazon immediately, return the products, and be sure the reviews under your name are swiftly removed. Importantly, this is another reason to constantly review, build and monitor your online reputation. Briefly, always: Check Google search results for negative links every few weeks. Monitor all other social media platforms, being especially mindful of negative comments. Set up Google Alerts for your name and business to be notified when search engines index a new article or link. Deal with any problems immediately if they come up. Add new positive information frequently to preemptively block or minimize potential reputation problems. Don’t hide. Instead, actively engage constantly (daily) with others online to continually build trust.