The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accused an online seller of paying for fake reviews on Amazon.com. The FTC said it was the first case in which it challenged a marketer’s use of fake paid reviews on an independent retail website.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants advertised and sold a dietary supplement on Amazon.com as an appetite-suppressing, fat-blocking, weight-loss pill.
The FTC alleges that the defendants paid a website to create and post Amazon reviews of their product, allegedly telling the website’s operator that his product needed to have an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars in order to have sales and to, “Please make my product … stay a five star.”
“As described in the FTC’s complaint, the reviews the defendants bought were posted on Amazon.com and gave the product a five-star rating. The complaint charges the defendants with representing that the purchased Amazon reviews were truthful reviews written by actual purchasers, when in reality they were fabricated.”
Interestingly the order requires the defendants to notify Amazon that they purchased reviews and which ones they purchased.
An Amazon spokesperson provided us with the following statement:
“We welcome the FTC’s work in this area. Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers. Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”
The consequences for the defendants in the case are steep – the FTC stated:
“The order imposes a judgment of $12.8 million, which will be suspended upon payment of $50,000 to the Commission and the payment of certain unpaid income tax obligations. If the defendants are later found to have misrepresented their financial condition to the FTC, the full amount of the judgment will immediately become due.”
The press release announcing the FTC’s action notes: “The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated final injunctions/orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.”
See the press release on the FTC.gov website.