The Fiverr Report Goes Live!

The online world is overrun with reviews that were bought and paid for. As a former marketing executive for a large East Coast firm, one of our member bloggers knows more about this dirty business than most people. The Fiverr Report blog is named for a company our blogger worked undercover at for two years where services, including review writing services, are bought and sold for $5.

Although The Fiverr Report gets its name from that computer, it is just one of dozens of companies selling review writing services. Stay tuned for updates from The Fiverr Report, including reports on:

Jennifer Probst – a previously self-published and New York Times bestselling author who bought reviews by the barrel full

Melissa Foster – a self-published, self-professed marketing expert who sells marketing courses but left out the parts about how she bought over two hundred and fifty reviews, even asking for reviews “as fast as you can provide them”

John Locke – a self-published and USA Today bestselling author, outed for buying several hundred reviews from a particular source but who neglected to mention the hundreds of other reviews bought from other sources

Cheryl Kaye Tardiff – a self-published kindle author who wrote a book about making over $42000 in a month on Amazon and also neglected to mention hundreds of reviews bought

As outraged as we are? Write some real reviews of these badly behaving authors and their books.

Crime Author Criminal: Carolyn Arnold

Earlier we blogged about the fake reviews of Carolyn Arnold on Amazon but those 200 fake reviews are the tip of the iceberg. Carolyn Arnold’s dubious practices are plentiful.

Before we get started, please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

In the descriptions of her books, in her bio and on her personal sites, self-published Carolyn Arnold often adds gushing praise written by the same author friends with whom she swaps reviews.  Arnold  prominently lists that a book was selected as one of the Top 12 fiction books of 2011. The phrasing changes from time to time and currently reads

“Arnold’s imagination and attention to detail do not leave any loose ends. Exciting.”
–MIAMI BOOKS EXAMINER’S “Top 12 Fiction Books of 2011” list.

Reading this you might think this is a legitimate review source but upon examination you’ll see it’s just one more dubious practice in Arnold’s long con game. Examiner.com is a site where freelancers can share about anything. The site has over 100,000 freelancers who contribute, most of which aren’t paid anything. They are unpaid bloggers.

Miami Books Examiner is the tagline of one of the bloggers, just as another blogger is The Hunger Games Examiner. Miami Books Examiner is in fact the tagline for Rosa St.Claire, a friend of an Arnold friend.

Oddly enough, Arnold’s book actually isn’t even one of the Top 12 in the list as implied. Her book is part of an additional “special recommendation” section.

Using fake review sources seems to be a tactic used by others Arnold was swapping reviews with. These sources are made to sound legitimate but don’t hold up upon examination. Not much different from the way Carolyn Arnold misappropriates the name of the legitimate children’s author of the same name, often trying to use the other author’s reputation and accomplishments as her own.

Whether pen name or real name, misuse of another author’s name is a tactic of Arnold and her author friends. More on this in upcoming posts.

The Many Faces of Self-published Carolyn Arnold

The biggest fake review scams we discovered in our research also are  some of the first we came across. The impetus for this blog in fact was a book by self-published Carolyn Arnold called Ties That Bind. The book was by far the worst book one of our member bloggers had ever read but was being praised to the heavens by reviewers on Amazon.  Not just in a few reviews either, but in so many reviews it boggled the mind. In fact, all of Carolyn Arnold’s books were being similarly praised, though upon reading they were all terrible.

What we were able to determine with extensive sleuthing is that reviews largely were written by author friends of Carolyn Arnold. Friends that Carolyn Arnold frequently talked to on social media. Carolyn Arnold was so brazen about her unethical tactics she openly discussed them on social media. She even gave pointers to authors who want to commit similar acts.

We tracked the activities of Carolyn Arnold for some time and it led us to a large group of authors who were each others fans and reviewers. Tracking Carolyn Arnold led us to closed groups on various sites where Arnold and others traded tactics and made plans, such as for writing reviews of each others books on Amazon, rating each other on Goodreads, becoming each others fans on Goodreads, voting up favorable reviews, voting down or reporting unfavorable reviews.

Members also would get their friends and family members to review other members books. It’s how many of the members got hundreds of reviews.

Authors who reviewed Carol Arnold’s books and were members of these groups

Collette Scott
Betty Dravis
Richard Hale
Joanna Lee Doster
D A Graystone
Ashley Fontainne
Sandy Wolters
Zach Fortier
Stacy Eaton
Carmen DeSousa
Jennifer Chase
Todd Bush
Kenneth Hoss
Ann Swann
J A Hunsinger
Karen DeLabar
Kirkus MacGowan
Linda Hawley

All these authors have dozens or hundreds of fake reviews too and will be discussed in future posts.

Based on social media posts we were able to identify friends that Carolyn Arnold engaged with frequently, who also wrote reviews and acted as her fan base

Richard Goodship
Sherry Buikema
Sheilagh Lee
Andrew Butters
D L Atkinson
April Plummer
Karen Vaughan
Brooke Frederick
Patricia Robinson
Glenda Bixler
Debbie Grimes
Tina Samuels
Robyn Ryan
Vicki Hancock
L Smith
Joe Wilcox
Katie Jennings
Michael Stedman
Darlene Langley

Based on our findings and tracking of Carolyn Arnold’s activities, we found the following on Amazon

124 of 143 reviews of Ties That Bind were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

61 of 68 reviews of Eleven were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

31 or 38 reviews of Justified were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

28 of 30 reviews of Sacrifice  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

29 of 32 reviews of Assassination of a Dignitary  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

5 of 5 reviews of Hart’s Choice  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

10 of 10 reviews of Rings of a Tree  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

We’ll have more on Carolyn Arnold, these authors, and fake reviews in upcoming articles.

Please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

Why are paid reviews unethical?

When we started our research into paid reviews, we severely underestimated how widespread the problem was.  Paid reviews are on Amazon, Goodreads, Angie’s List, and elsewhere.

Paid reviews are reviews authors and others offering goods or services pay to receive. Payment can be in cash, goods or services. Paid reviews bought with cash are the most common. Less common are reviews bought with an exchange of goods and services. Often with paid reviews there is an unspoken understanding the purchased reviews will be supportive, even if somewhat critical.

Paid reviews differ from legitimate review sources that charge fees in several important ways. With legitimate review sources, such as Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly, someone pays a fee to have a recognized source read and review the good or service and gets one and only one review from that recognized source. The review comes specifically from that source and doesn’t appear to be a  review from a consumer. The review may be good or bad.

With paid review companies, the buyer can purchase as many reviews as they want. If the buyer wants 50 reviews, they can buy 50 reviews. Every review will appear to have been written by a consumer who purchased the product or service. Some companies, such as Fiverr where one of our member bloggers worked undercover for two years, allow people to buy reviews for as little as $5. For an extra fee the company will ensure the reviewers buy the product and are verified.

In our research, we expected to find a few companies offering such services but we found there were dozens. Our marketing expert also found professional marketing companies were ensuring products and services were reviewed as part of their marketing packages. This was where we found that practice of payment in goods and services to be especially prevalent. The most common form of non-cash payment was the gift card where consumers were paid in gift cards for writing reviews.

We found authors giving gift cards to readers for the same purpose. Readers were given gift cards to purchase an author’s book, accompanied by either a direct or implied request to review the book.

In a similar vein, we found many authors offering kindles to readers for reviews and ratings. During our research, we tracked groups of authors who had monthly or weekly kindle giveaways for readers who wrote reviews and rated their books. During the tracked period, some of these authors garnered hundreds of ratings and reviews from this highly unethical practice.

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 a fake review?

Amazon is overrun with fake reviews. We’re tired of it and decided to do something about it. To us, a fake review is

  • Any review written by an author’s friends, relatives or acquaintances, especially reviews requested by the authors themselves to push up their ratings.
  • Any review written by the author using fake names or puppet accounts, especially when the author has many such accounts.
  • Any review bought and paid for, especially those from less-than-reputable or questionable companies.
  • Any review swapped or traded between authors.
  • Any review bought by promising readers free kindles or paying readers any other kickbacks.

If you’re as tired of fake reviews and unethical authors as we are, help spread the word about our blog and stay tuned for future posts.