Zon Alert – Call to Action
Zon Alert members have identified dozens of fraudsters at Amazon. The worst offenders are listed below on the Do Not Buy List.
Zon Alert has been on extended hiatus as our founding member was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and passed away September 25, 2015. Although Zon went quiet out of our deep respect for him and his struggle, it also is our respect for him that makes us want to continue his work. Though we no longer have access to the resources of his boards, the private member discussions or internal Amazon access for our deepest research, we will endeavor on to work toward revealing truth.
Another reason for our return is that another of our founding members, a retired DC PD detective, is working to get an attempted murder indictment against Melissa Foster for her role in paying someone to attack a writer she was at odds with. The vicious attack left the writer crippled and without a means to support herself or her family.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Amazon Fraudsters – The Do Not Buy List
All of these authors have been identified by Zon Alert as having conducted extensive fraudulent activities. Read our posts to learn more. We suggest you balance the hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of paid, traded, swapped and friend reviews with real reviews that tell these authors how much you dislike their fraud.
A M Hargrove
A Meredith Walters
B V Larson
C C Cole
Cheryl Kaye Tardiff
D A Graystone
D Ryan Leask
David A Wells
Dr. S Drecker
E L Lindley
Frederick Lee Brooke
H M Ward
J A Hunsinger
J A Konrath
J S Scott
Joanna Lee Doster
L J Kentowski
Linda S Prather
Linda S Prather
M R Mathias
M Todd Gallowglas
Michael G Manning
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
R J Palacio
Robert Lee Carey Jr
Stephanie Lisa Tara
T R Harris