A fake Amazon review ring run from Germany has been shut down for the first time following a legal challenge in the British courts.
The High Court has issued injunctions against three companies that offered to boost Amazon sellers’ star ratings using a network of thousands of seemingly authentic reviewers.
It comes as the online retail giant comes under pressure from regulators over how it deals with fake reviews.
The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating Amazon and Google over concerns they do not do enough to protect shoppers.
Amazon applied to the High Court against three companies based in Malta and Mallorca that traded as AMZTigers and Testerjob, which promised to boost sellers’ items in search results by flooding them with five-star reviews.
The High Court injunction banned the companies from brokering reviews in the UK and said “any person [breaking the order] may be imprisoned, fined or have their assets seized”. It is believed to be the first time the UK courts have issued such an injunction.
AMZTigers boasted 20,000 reviewers in the UK and 62,000 globally, who would give products five-star reviews under marketing schemes.
The reviewers would purchase assigned products on Amazon and then review them, making them appear authentic, but be reimbursed for their cost, effectively being showered with free items in exchange for reviews.
Company records show the operations are linked to Norbert Weber, a Berlin-based internet marketing entrepreneur who also runs W3 Internet Marketing, a search engine optimisation business.
Online videos of Mr Weber promoting AMZTigers show him saying “we are violating the rules of Amazon here” and saying the practice was “moving to the edge of what is legal”.
Marketing material for the company said it would “let your products become best sellers”, and sold reviews for €15 (£12.50) each, or batches of up to 1,000 reviews for a discount.
Testerjob.co.uk offered potential reviewers the “chance to get Amazon products for free”.
Positive reviews are highly prized on Amazon as they help products rise up the company’s search rankings, making them more prominent to shoppers, without having to pay for placement.
After Amazon secured an injunction, the sites stopped operating late last year.
Mr Weber did not respond to a request for comment.
The Amazon UK chief, John Boumphrey, said: “We devote significant resources to preventing fake and incentivised reviews from appearing on Amazon. It’s absolutely crucial in earning the trust of our customers. This lawsuit makes clear that fraud will not be tolerated in our store and we won’t hesitate in pursuing fake review brokers through the UK courts.”