A recent data breach exposed a scheme involving vendors buying fake five-star reviews on Amazon. Here’s what it means for regular customers.
A recent data breach has exposed a widespread scam involving fake reviews on Amazon. Besides the scam, the breach has also put the private information of more than 200,000 people at risk. The gravity of the situation further exacerbates Amazon’s ongoing problems with scams and cybersecurity. The online marketplace recently found itself the subject of another controversy, following the emergence of paid workers acting as ambassadors on social media.
Much like what can happen in other online marketplaces, scammers can easily dupe customers by posing as a legitimate Amazon representative. One of the most recent examples of this involved fake representatives trying to phish for sensitive information, alleging that the customer was a recent victim of fraud. Besides attempts from outside the app, scammers can also try their best to misdirect customers by posting deceiving information about inferior products. For its part, Amazon can combat against the latter through its review system, allowing customers to easily see if a product is worth buying. Unfortunately, the recently exposed scam shows that the system is inherently flawed and is actively being exploited by vendors.
Reported by cybersecurity researchers SafetyDetectives, a breached database of records has revealed that a number of Amazon vendors are constantly communicating with individuals selling fake reviews. After a negotiation of terms, the fake reviewer purchases the product from Amazon and publishes a fake five-star review. Afterwards, the vendor pays the reviewer the cost of the product through another payment app, such as PayPal. By avoiding refunding the purchase directly, the vendor and fake review is able to circumvent being caught by Amazon. The breach includes message records between vendors and reviewers, the vendor’s contact information, and the reviewers’ sensitive information (including PayPal details).
Buyer (& Reviewer) Beware
Outside of the breach, the scam itself directly affects how customers perceive listed products on Amazon. Customers can easily evaluate a purchase based on its reviews, and especially for unfamiliar brand names. However, the proliferation of fake reviews place an additional burden on customers to further check whether the reviews are legitimate or fake to begin with. While fake reviews have always been a thing in the consumer world, the scale of the breach reveals just how widespread the scam is. The report even adds a handy guide to spot fake reviews, including checking for overly emotional language.
Further, the scam goes beyond the implicated vendors and fake reviewers in the breach. Normal customers can also find themselves stuck in the same pool through some clever trickery used by vendors. For example, deceptive vendors can dupe customers into providing a fake review by using more colorful language, such as “free product trials,” to lure them in. Even if the customer had no intention of making a fake reviews, they are, and this can open the door to potential lawsuits.
Finally, the breach itself is a massive security problem for both Amazon and the individuals involved. Even if most of the 200,000 or so accounts were part of the scheme, it’s still a significant number of Amazon users that have been potentially exposed to others. As mentioned, malicious parties have tried to phish for user details in the past and this Amazon breach exposes hundreds of thousands of potential targets to anyone dedicated enough to try.
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