Amazon Review Scams – What They Are & How to Protect Yourself

Stephanie Faris
Writer
Dolores Bernal
Editor
January 30, 2024
criticism

Image by Gerd Altmann

The Amazon truck is a regular visitor to our driveway.

So when one of those white and blue mailers landed on our porch, I assumed it was something I ordered. I didn’t even bother to look up what it might be. 

It’s rare if a package doesn’t get dropped on our porch at least once a week.

For many people, it’s far more often.

But this time, when I opened the mailer, something completely unfamiliar was inside.

No, this wasn’t a case of forgetting I’d ordered it. That has happened, too, especially with those items that take weeks to ship.

No, this was a small bottle of bubbles – bubbles, as in the child’s plaything.

No children live here. And I am certainly not ordering bubbles for myself.

As it turned out, this package was part of a review scam called “brushing.” Something was sent to me to legitimize a fake review.

It’s one of many reasons you can’t always trust the reviews you see on Amazon.

What Are Amazon Review Scams?

Pictures can be misleading.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered something only to be disappointed once it arrived: 

  • Clothing made from cheap fabric that’s rough after one washing. 
  • A device that doesn’t work or could become a fire hazard.
  • A travel-size container of moisturizer that I thought was full-sized.

Over time, I’ve learned to read the reviews. I look at the customer photos and sort by most recent to see how the product is working for customers today versus a year ago.

I buy so much clothing on Amazon, that the site even knows my size. “Small will fit you best based on millions of customer orders, returns, and reviews.”

But we’ve all learned by now that reviews can’t always be trusted. I’m not just talking about the fact that reviews are a matter of opinion.

Some sellers manipulate the rating system by flooding it with reviews that…aren’t so legitimate.

But by knowing about Amazon review scams, we’ll know what to watch for so we can keep ourselves safe.

✎ Related: Common Amazon Scams To Avoid ➔

5 Common Amazon Reviews Scams

  1. Brushing Scams
  2. Review Writing Offers
  3. Phishing Scam
  4. Review Hijacking Scams
  5. Competitor Sabotage Review Scams
Reviews concept for landing page

Image by pikisuperstar

1. Brushing Scams

What is it? A seller ships a small, low-cost item to a random household. The delivery validates the transaction as a verified purchase. The seller can post a FAKE VERIFIED REVIEW for the real item. 

How to spot it: You’ll know a brushing scam when you receive an item you didn’t order. Amazon isn’t the only site prone to brushing scams – eBay customers have also reported it.

How to avoid it: If you receive an item you didn’t order, check the mailing label on the package. Make sure it wasn’t misdelivered. Next, check your account to make sure someone hasn’t accessed it and placed orders on your behalf. It might be a good time to change your password even if you see nothing. Lastly, Amazon encourages customers to report random items delivered. You can do that through its customer support site.

2. Review Writing Offers

What is it? You’re scrolling the Internet when you see an enticing offer. You can get a free high-dollar item in exchange for leaving a review, the ad says. You first must buy the item and leave a review. Once the review is in place, you’ll get your money. In most cases, you actually do get a refund, but there are no guarantees. Being paid for leaving positive reviews (even on products) is against Amazon’s Terms of Service, so if you’re caught, you could lose your account.

How to spot it: Ads for Amazon review writers seem to be everywhere. As a content writer, I’ve seen plenty of them on job sites like Indeed and ProBlogger. But you don’t have to be a writer to be targeted with these offers. For a while, they were fairly common on Facebook, both as paid ads and as unpaid posts in groups. You’ll spot it by the “too good to be true” wording. It’s important to understand that even if you aren’t scammed, the fake reviews hurt the integrity of Amazon. Not only does it put your own account at risk, but it makes it tough for everyone else to trust the reviews they see, especially if your review isn’t authentic.

How to avoid it: Skip any offer that has you leaving reviews, whether it’s in exchange for products or cash. If you’re like me, you rely on your Amazon account to make purchases; consider how you’ll feel if you lose it.

3. Phishing Scam

What is it? Have you ever opened an email that requests you review a purchased product? Amazon even sends them sometimes. The subject line reads: Did your recent Amazon order meet your expectations? Review it on Amazon. In the body of the email is a photo of the product and five stars (see below photo). When you click on the image, a page opens, inviting you to choose a number of stars and write some comments. This email can be easily faked, though. When you click on a scam email requesting your review, you’re asked to input your username and password, which is then stolen.

How to spot it: The request for compromising data is the hallmark of a phishing scam. Legitimate emails from Amazon take you to a page where you’re likely already logged in. If you’re being asked to input your username and password after a click from an email, it could be a phishing scam.

How to avoid it: If you’re being directed to a page asking for any details on you, including your login credentials, credit card number, bank account numbers, or any other identifying details, CLOSE THE WINDOW. You can always go to Amazon.com and find all your recent orders by choosing Returns & Orders in the upper-right corner.

Amazon

4. Review Hijacking Scams

What is it? This scam exploits a loophole in Amazon’s system. By changing up the product for sale on a page, a seller can make a product appear more popular than it is. For instance, a seller might have thousands of five-star reviews for a wallet, then suddenly switch to selling an in-demand phone charger. Not only do buyers see a large number of reviews as a sign it’s a trustworthy product, but the listing is elevated in search results due to the review history. 

How to spot it: Make sure you’re taking a close look at the reviews. Pay attention to any reviews that might not be for the product being advertised. (Keep in mind that some sellers might sell different color and flavor variations under the same listing, and this is completely legitimate.) Sort reviews by most recent. Sometimes this will bring out the reviews for the product currently being advertised. 

How to avoid it: Always look at the most recent reviews. Look at the question and answer section since this can sometimes reveal that the reviews might be for a different product. A quick glance at the “Read reviews that mention” tags at the top of the review section can also identify review hijacking. If you do spot a seller engaging in review hijacking, report it to Amazon. Each page has a “report incorrect product information” option. Clicking on that link will let you report the misplaced reviews.

5. Competitor Sabotage Review Scams

What is it? Say, I’m a seller with an innovative gadget. The problem is someone else has a similar gadget, and it’s showing up with better reviews than mine. All I have to do is find a way to flood that competitor’s site with negative reviews. Yes, that hurts the seller, but it also hurts you, the customer considering buying that product since a good product is showing hundreds of fake reviews.

How to spot it: Brevity is often a way to spot this type of review. Looking for a shortcut, a seller might ask large swaths of people, paid or not, to leave a nasty review for the competitor. A flood of one-star reviews with very little information and no pictures can be an indication the reviews are fake. Also, look to see if those reviews are verified purchases. Sabotage-based reviews usually won’t have a purchase attached to them.

How to avoid it: Always take the entirety of reviews into consideration. If only recent reviews are negative, look for signs something might have changed with the product. But if there’s no reason that might have happened, consider that a competitor might be review-bombing as a form of sabotage.

How To Spot Fake Amazon Reviews?

Online shopping concept

Image by pikisuperstar

Reviews can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re looking for a product that has thousands. How can you tell the fake from the real?

First, it’s important to go beyond the 5-star and 1-star reviews.

Yes, I know – both of those extremes can provide the most useful information. If we’re excited about a product, we’ll look to the reviews to confirm this is the item of our dreams.

If we’re trying to talk ourselves out of buying something, those 1-star reviews can quickly give us the ammunition we need.

But for the most part, review manipulation seeks to get more 5-star reviews. If it’s competitor sabotage, you’ll see a bunch of 1-star reviews.

In between those two extremes, you might find the truth.

Yes, we’re more likely to leave a review if we’re really happy or unhappy with a product. But I don’t always leave a 5-star review for a product I love. 

If I’m angry enough to leave a 1-star, you will know, in detail, what I didn’t like.

So those extreme reviews without detail? That’s where some red flags should go up.

Also, take a closer look at the 1-star reviews. Is someone listing the product flaws, and then explaining away those flaws? It could be a way to sell you on the product by selling you within the negative reviews.

If those 1-star reviews mention competitors, definitely run!

When looking at reviews, always switch to the most recent. And look for some photos. Those real photos (not professionally lit with supermodels displaying the product) say a lot about what the product really looks like.

If there are no real photos but tons of reviews, give the product a side-eye.

How To Avoid Amazon Review Scams?

Now that we know how reviews can be manipulated, it’s time to look at some ways we can protect ourselves. 

1. Note the Terms of Service

Amazon prohibits sellers from paying for reviews.

The site also prohibits reviewers from being paid. That includes payment for free products.

Pay close attention to Amazon’s terms of service when it comes to reviews. Be aware that Amazon can and will delete accounts for violating those terms. If someone approaches you to write reviews in exchange for free products or compensation?

Just say no.

2. Avoid Clicking Links

One-click can ruin your day. Your month. Your year.

In fact, you can spend years cleaning up the damage. Avoid clicking on links in emails. If, for some reason, your finger slips and you click anyway, close the browser immediately if you’re prompted to input information.

That advice doesn’t just go for emails. Don’t click links in text messages and social media messengers, either. If a message says there’s a problem with your account, head over and access your account there.

3. Scrutinize Reviews

Never take Amazon reviews at face value.

If you see a product with thousands of reviews, avoid assuming that all is great. Don’t judge a product only by its five- and one-star reviews, either.

Instead, sort reviews by most recent and look at the comments coming in today about a product, not just last year or five years ago.

This is something I personally find useful:

Always look for photos.

Customer photos say so much about a product. Most of us aren’t professional photographers, so the photos we share of an item are the real deal.

4. Use a Third-Party Site

If you want to take another step to filter out fake reviews, there are third-party sites that can help:

  • ReviewMeta: With this site, you simply input the URL for the product page. You’ll get a detailed analysis that detects reviews that might be fake.
  • The Review Index: Like ReviewMeta, you input a URL to get a review analysis.
  • Fakespot: If you want to commit to a browser extension, this tool attaches to your internet browser and monitors for fake reviews.

What to Do if You’ve Been Scammed By Amazon Review?

If you know you’ve been scammed, there are a few things to do to reduce damages and stop scammers from defrauding others moving forward.

1. Return the Product

There’s a reason Amazon gets so much of my money.

Okay, there are a few reasons, but many of them fall under the same category: CONVENIENCE.

Amazon makes returns super easy. Even if you purchased the product from a third-party seller, you can return it within Amazon’s interface.

If you’ve purchased a product based on fake reviews, simply slide it back into the original packaging, go to the order page on Amazon, and initiate a return. You can have it picked up or drop it off at any UPS Store or Kohl’s location.

Make sure you note in the return that the product wasn’t as advertised. Enough returns for the same seller under that reason, and Amazon will get the message.

2. Report It to Amazon

There are a few ways to report Amazon review scams:

  • Just below every review, you’ll see a link that reads Report. One of the options for reporting a review is that it was “Given in exchange for cash, discounts.”  
  • If the reviews mention a product not for sale on the page, click the link that reads “report incorrect product information” at the bottom of the product description. Let Amazon know that the reviews appear to be for a different product than the one for sale.
  • If you’ve been approached to leave a review in exchange for cash, email the details to community-help@amazon.com.
  • If you received a product you didn’t order, take a photo of it and the mailer and send it to community-help@amazon.com
  • If you see reviews left using your account, change your password immediately. Report the review using the link below.

3. Protect Your Identity

If you have a reason to believe your information may have been compromised, it’s important to take action.

If someone has accessed your Amazon account, you might need to go beyond changing your password. Keep an eye on your bank accounts and if you think your account might have been used to make purchases, dispute any charges with your card provider.

Identity theft protection can help keep you safe moving forward.

Services like Aura, LifeLock, and IdentityForce will let you know if fraudulent activity is suspected.

These services will also cover the cost of recovering your identity if something does happen.

Conclusion

Amazon reviews are an important part of the customer experience.

But as with anything useful, there’s always someone looking to game the system.

Being aware of how reviews can be scammed can help you take a closer look at things. Over time, you’ll become a pro at scanning reviews and getting a better picture of how a product will look and feel when it arrives.

✎ Related eCommerce Scams: