One morning in late January, Jake picked up the box on his desk, tore through the packing tape, unearthed the iPhone case inside, snapped a picture, and uploaded it to an Amazon review he’d been writing. The review included a sentence about the case’s sleek design and cool, clear volume buttons. He finished off the blurb with a glowing title (“The perfect case!!”) and rated the product a perfect five stars. Click. Submitted.
Jake never tried the case. He doesn’t even have an iPhone.
Jake then copied the link to his review and pasted it into an invite-only Slack channel for paid Amazon reviewers. A day later, he received a notification from PayPal, alerting him to a new credit in his account: a $10 refund for the phone case he’ll never use, along with $3 for his trouble — potentially more, if he can resell the iPhone case.
Jake is not his real name. He — along with the four other reviewers who spoke to BuzzFeed News for this story — wanted to remain anonymous for fear Amazon would ban their accounts. They are part of an extensive, invisible workforce fueling a review-fraud economy that persists in every corner of the largest marketplace on the internet. Drawn in by easy money and free stuff, they’ve seeded Amazon with fake five-star reviews of LED lights, dog bowls, clothing, and even health items like prenatal vitamins — all meant to convince you that this product is thebest and bolster the sales of profiteers hoping to grab a piece of the Amazon Gold Rush. Meanwhile, sellers trying to play by the rules are struggling to stay afloat amid a sea of fraudulent reviews, and buyers are unwittingly purchasing inferior or downright faulty products. And Amazon is all but powerless to stop it.