Suppliers have been paying computer science experts in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia to write fake glowing reviews for products on partner websites.
According to Guardian Money, fake reviewing has becoming a global business and is making the idea of customer reviews redundant.
Many offer their services to western companies on Freelancer.com, which promotes itself as an international website on which you can “outsource anything you can think of”. Companies simply post their requirements and wait for freelancers to start bidding for the work.
Guardian Money focused on fake reviews which promoted WAE+ which is a Birmingham reseller which claims to flog cheap cameras, flat-screen televisions and computers. It used to be known as We are Electricals. Last year this reseller had the distinction of being Computerworld’s most complained about company. Bogus reviews work was also carried out for a financial services company, AnnuitySupermarket.Com.
It outted “Zahed Kamal” who is a 25-year-old studying computer science and engineering at university in Chittagong, Bangladesh. He made cash on the side posting hundreds of reviews on independent consumer review websites such as Trustpilot and Review Centre. He has 11 jobs posting reviews, which, he says, will earn him £1,130 – which is a lot of dosh from where he comes from. He makes so much cash that he sub-contracts some of the work to others in India and Bangladesh.
What is tricky is that the writer needs to be able to create a unique name, email and internet provider address for each review, and make it look like it is posted in the UK. It does not take much computer expertise to do that, but it does explain why it is a nice little earner for computer science students.
WAE+ was a good example of what is going wrong with the system. Either its reviews were extremely low or extremely good.
In March 2012, an internet culture blogger called Danger Nazi Zombies Ahead (DNZA) analysed WAE+ reviews and found usernames that had posted glowing reviews were also used to post positive reviews of a small set of unrelated companies, based in different countries. Curiously those who bought from Birmingham UK with prices in pounds and thought the outfit was pretty good also bought from an American clothes shop with prices in dollars.
Guardian Money found Kamal, who said he was contracted to post reviews about WAE+ and was contacted through Freelancer.com by someone under the name of “f0rtkn0x” who was believed to be Ben Slater, operations director of WAE+.
Things went badly when someone from his company was fired, started posting bad reviews, and reported all about the reviews WAE+ got from his clients.
WAE+ insisted that there were no false reviews online about WAE+ for which it is knowingly responsible.
Kamal told the Guardian that sometimes he is contracted to put up real reviews that have been sent to a company by customers, but which haven’t been posted on the all-important review sites.
Trustpilot admitted that there was a black market for reviews and it took it very seriously. It also relies on the Trustpilot community to help identify and investigate reviews, further ensuring their quality and authenticity.
Fake reviews are illegal under consumer protection legislation. Apparently reading three negative reviews is enough to change the mind of 63 percent of consumers about making a purchase