This Amazon Scam Shows Why You Can’t Trust Verified Reviews

Vendors could be manipulating how their products are rated.

Unsplash / Maarten van den Heuvel

Christmas came really early for Mike and Kelly Gallivan. The couple has been receiving a string of unsolicited Amazon packages they believe is part of an elaborate scam to manipulate reviews on the e-commerce site.

All of the parcels contained cheap products like plastic fans, phone chargers, and hand warmers. These random boxes and envelopes come once or twice a week to the Gallivans’ home in Acton, Massachusetts. The couple has now received about 25 packages they never ordered.

According to a report by the The Boston Globe that cited experts who formerly worked at Amazon, the Gallivans might be unintentionally involved in a ploy to boost reviews on the site.

The packages received by the Gallivans are completely anonymous. The return address is an Amazon’s warehouse, the mysterious buyer used a gift card to pay for the delivery, and there is no identity information attached to the account that made the purchase.

Former Amazon employees James Thomson and Chris McCabe told The Boston Globe that this is almost a perfect crime for a seller looking to artificially improve their reviews.

A sketchy vendor attempting to boost sales could set up a burner e-mail address to create a new Amazon account. They would then use that account to buy their own products using gift cards and send it to someone completely random. Once the package is delivered, the vendor can simply give their own product a five-star review using their phony Amazon account.

There’s an endless number of cheap electronic accessories on Amazon, so reviews are a popular metric to differentiate the best products from the rest. But as this scheme appears to demonstrate, reviews can be easily manipulated by a vendor with a lot of time and gift cards.

By simply sending 25 packages to the Gallivans, this mystery vendor could have given their products many glowing reviews. And there could be many more people receiving packages like these who haven’t spoken up.

If you didn’t have trust issues with the Internet already, now it seems like you can’t even believe what verified Amazon reviews are saying.