SEATTLE (CN) - Leaving little to the imagination, four websites with names like "buyamazonreviews.com" are giving rave reviews on Amazon for a price, the online retail giant claims in court.
Amazon.com says in the April 8 complaint that the sites advise third-party sellers how to outsmart Amazon's "verified purchaser" checks by mailing out empty boxes to the paid reviewers.
The complaint in King County Superior Court names Jay Gentile as the operator of buyazonreviews.com. Though it does not know who is operating buyamazonreviews,com, bayreviews.net and buyreviewsnow.com, Amazon wants the court to shut the John Does down as well for trademark infringement, unfair competition and violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
Amazon calls the practice of selling reviews an "unhealthy ecosystem" that threatens its brand.
"A very small minority of sellers and manufacturers attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages by creating false, misleading, and inauthentic customer reviews for their products on Amazon.com," the complaint states. "While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon's brand. Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews. Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews. Defendants' businesses consist entirely of selling such reviews."
The complaint accuses Gentile of offering customers unlimited fake five-star reviews, which he would "slow drip" onto product pages to avoid detection. Gentile also advised customers to ship empty boxes to reviewers so it appears they actually bought the products, Amazon claims.
"Gentile further explained that the reviewers at buyazonreviews.com do not actually need to receive the products they are reviewing, and the purchaser could simply ship empty packages in an effort to fool Amazon into believing the reviewer was a 'verified purchaser,' saying, 'Note: You do not have to actually ship the item unless you want to. We suggest that for tracking purposes is that you just ship out an empty box or envelope, this will show [A]mazon that the item was actually shipped,'" the complaint states. "When a reviewer working for buyazonreviews.com complained to the customer that she had not actually received the product to review, Gentile promised to bring the reviewer in line: 'All our reviewers know of the process and I am not sure as to why she sent this to you but I will ensure it does not happen in the future.'"
Amazon notes that it expressly prohibits paid reviews and suspends the sellers that purchase or post fake reviews.
"Defendants are misleading Amazon's customers and tarnishing Amazon's brand for their own profit and the profit of a handful of dishonest sellers and manufacturers," the complaint states. "Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping Defendants and disrupting the marketplace in which they participate."
In addition to damages for trademark infringement, unfair competition, violation of the Consumer Protection Act, Amazon wants an accounting of funds that the sites received from Amazon sellers.
It asks for an injunction to stop the practice of selling fake reviews, transfer of the domain names, and an order requiring the sites to identify each Amazon review created in exchange for payment, as well as the accounts and persons who paid for and created such reviews.
David Bateman of K & L Gates represents Amazon.
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