60% of Online Ratings and Reviews Are Fake

From corporate publishers with schemes to create the next Harry Potter by generating avalanches of “support” for authors and books to small-time book hustlers writing their own reviews, the online world is overrun with fraud and fakery. Online review systems are broken and untrustworthy. Amazon’s own internal memos state up to 60% of the reviews on its sites are disgenuine. 60% is a large number but based on our extensive research we believe the actual number is significantly higher.

When we started researching online rating and review fraud, Zon Alert and Fiverr Report bloggers didn’t know what we were getting into. Our initial investigation lead us to criminal crime author Carolyn Arnold and a large cabals of authors committing online fraud by faking ratings and reviews. This investigation lead us in turn to Melissa Foster and an even larger cabals of authors committing not only rating and review fraud but also driving multilevel fraudulent schemes of many types. Frauds that revolved around fake awards, fake fans or street teams, authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, organized efforts to damage the careers of other authors, organized review-for-favor schemes, consumers lured with promises of gifts and gratuities if only they reviewed certain authors’ works, authors swapping reviews with each other like bubble gum, and many other types of organized review-writing schemes.

In our investigations we identified numerous cheating authors and named them in this blog. Caught red-handed the cheating authors tried to discredit this blog and its members. Some outed for hundreds of fake reviews made claims they were innocent as they didn’t have hundreds of reviews at Amazon, knowing full well the scope of their fraud extended to many sites beyond Amazon. Knowing also some, and in cases many, of the fake reviews weren’t used to support their own books but to cause harm to others.

The list of cheats quickly grew to encompass not only authors but also friends and relations who knowingly participated. Our infamous list of badly behaving unethical authors grew to include

A M Hargrove
A Meredith Walters
Aaron Pogue
Alle Wells
Amanda Hocking
Ann Swann
Ashley Fontainne
B V Larson
Bella Forrest
Betty Dravis
Blake Crouch
Brandon Sanderson
C C Cole
Carmen DeSousa
Carolyn Arnold
Cassia Leo
Cege Smith
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Collette Scott
D A Graystone
D Ryan Leask
Daniel Arenson
David A Wells
Debora Geary
Dixie Goode
E L Lindley
Edie Claire
Elizabeth Reyes
Emma Chase
Erica Stevens
Erin Hunter
Frederick Lee Brooke
Gail McHugh
H M Ward
Hugh Howey
Ilona Andrews
J A Hunsinger
J A Konrath
J S Scott
James Dean
Jasinda Wilder
Jay Allan
Jennifer Chase
Jessica Sorensen
Jillian Dodd
Joanna Lee Doster
K Bromberg
K J Bennett
Karen DeLabar
Karen Vaughan
Kenneth Hoss
Kerry Reis
Kirkus MacGowan
L J Kentowski
Linda Hawley
Linda S Prather
Lorena Angell
M R Mathias
M Todd Gallowglas
Mallory Monroe
Marni Mann
Mary Campisi
Matthew Mather
Melinda Leigh
Melissa Foster
Michael G Manning
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
R J Palacio
Rachel Dover
Rebecca Forster
Richard Hale
Rick Bylina
Rick Soper
Robert Pruneda
Rosie Cochran
Ryk Brown
Sandy Wolters
Stacy Eaton
Stephanie Lisa Tara
T R Harris
Tarryn Fisher
Todd Bush
Zach Fortier

As we kept digging we kept uncovering more and more cheating authors including hustlers like C J Ellisson, Martin Crosbie, A J Cosmo, Samantha Chase, Elle Casey, Jennifer Blake, K D Emerson, Rachel Yu, Michael Yu, Eve Carter, Helen Hanson, Lily Lexington, Michael Baisden, Sharlene Alexander, Monique Martin, Gerald Hawksley, David Dalglish, CC MacKenzie, Rosalind James and Alexia Purdy. Some of which are small-time cheats, while others are huge fraudsters earning tens of thousands a month through deceptive practices, unethical behavior and outright fakery.

Not to mention even bigger cheats: B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Melissa Foster, Amanda Hocking, et al.

The research left us disillusioned and angry. We believe the rating and reviews systems are so broken the only way to fix them is for all online ratings and reviews to be removed or for every site to have a widely displayed disclaimer that reader ratings and reviews cannot be relied upon to determine the quality or merchantability of any product. We won’t be holding our breath for such things to happen and you shouldn’t either. Instead, you should report the aforementioned fraudsters wherever their fake reviews appear and demand justice.

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What is a troll?

Trolls were one of many unexpected things we learned about in our research into unethical tactics and fake reviews. In the context of online discussions, a troll isn’t a mythical monster or a child’s creation rather a troll is someone with ill intentions.

Trolls make outrageous claims. Trolls start online fights by saying hurtful things. Trolls attack others with words. Trolls do this to get a reaction. The stronger the reaction, the better, as far as trolls are concerned. Trolls do this because they want to get people angry. Trolls want to cause damage. Trolls want to cause harm.

With regard to books and authors, trolls often are the ones writing spurious commentary and reviews. Trolls do this to take down certain authors while promoting others. Trolls are plentiful at Amazon and Goodreads. They’re also present at Angie’s List.

It might surprise you to learn there are professional trolls. Professional trolls come in a few different varieties. Some work in marketing where their goal is to push a brand, book or author while devaluing another brand, book or author. Our resident marketing expert spent over a year tracking professional trolls before she stumbled upon the worst of the worst in professional trolling: hacker trolls.

Hacker trolls are different from most other trolls. They’re around to cause severe damage, promote extreme agendas, and do absolute harm while gaining recognition for their exploits. The more harm they cause, the higher the likelihood they will be accepted at certain closed sites and chat rooms where hacker trolls exchange stories, build their reps by detailing their exploits, and exchange tactics and ideas.

A clear warning: Stay away from dedicated hacker trolls. These trolls destroy lives and livelihoods for enjoyment.

What is a sock puppet?

When we looked at how people were cheating at Amazon, Goodreads, Angie’s List and elsewhere, one of the first things we encountered were fake accounts, also called sock puppets or puppet accounts. Our first thought was that fake accounts were simply people using multiple accounts with made up names or aliases. As we kept digging in, we found there was much more to it.

Accounts that were obviously fake often had verified purchases, real names or were otherwise verified. Frequently, though not always, the fake accounts would have many reviews or reviews written over a period of several years but they were often reviews of odd items, like a screwdriver, a fountain pen or a baking pan.

As we monitored fake accounts over time, we realized there often were patterns. Some fake accounts were being used to post spurious reviews. Most fake accounts were being used to post supportive reviews. All fake accounts seemed to have agendas, either good or bad.

We often were able to separate the pros from the semi-pros and amateurs. A pro was someone who’d been at the fake account game for a long time and knew what they were doing. Pros seemed to create new accounts frequently, such as weekly or daily. Pros bought and reviewed items in their fake accounts periodically. Pros seemed to have fake accounts that went back years.

We looked at the products being reviewed by fake accounts. We saw different patterns for different types of goods and decided to focus mostly on books. With books, sock puppets are used mostly by the authors themselves, people the authors know, and people authors pay. With books, sock puppets also are used to post spurious reviews. Many pros seemed to be involved wherever we looked.

What is Amazon Alert?

Amazon alert is a blog created to identify unethical review practices. We’re fed up with the flood of fake reviews everywhere from Amazon to Angie’s List and we’re not going to take it any more. Who are we? We’re a group of readers, including an former Amazon employee, a former marketing executive, and a public school teacher.

Anything written in this blog is the opinion of the blog creators. Our posts are not meant to defame, harass or personally attack any individual or company. However, as journalists, we intend to report what we’ve encountered while investigating fake reviews since 2010. Our promise to readers is that we won’t post anything without  careful research and double-checking the facts.

We invite every reader of this blog to do their own independent research before drawing any conclusions from anything we’ve written.