Amazon sues CEO of ‘Fake Feedback’ Business Auction Sentinel – Sourcing Journal

Just weeks after suing more than 10,000 Facebook users for peddling inciting reviews, Amazon took another step toward cracking down on fake comments this week.

The e-commerce titan filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Trey King, the CEO of Auction Sentinel, a company that sells reviews from “verified” sellers. King’s company also offers a service to help sellers create multiple accounts, particularly to lessen the impact of an Amazon suspension.

According to Amazon’s lawsuit, Auction Sentinel offered sellers four Amazon Feedback packages, starting at $200 for 10 verified reviews and up to $700 for 100 verified reviews. Although the complaint includes an image of these various packages, Auction Sentinel appears to have removed them from its site. It still offers “feedback services” for Walmart, eBay, and Etsy. Instead of listing its various review packages, Auction Sentinel’s Amazon page now has a disclaimer.

“Auctionsentinel.com does not sell product reviews,” it read. “Product Reviews [sic] and comments are two completely separate [sic] Amazon features. Please do not ask us to engage in product reviews [sic]. Your request will be denied. Please ask for feedback only.

Although closely related, product reviews and seller feedback are two different beasts. The former refers to reviews left by customers regarding a specific product, while the latter rates the seller and the customer service they provide. Both use a five-star rating system, and they both impact Amazon’s internal rankings, which rank products and sellers separately.

Amazon’s complaint makes numerous references to its product review policies, but its central legal argument focuses on how Auction Sentinel offers feedback to sellers in exchange for money. A high feedback score, he noted, can encourage customers to buy from a seller and increase the likelihood that Amazon will select their products as “featured offers.” Since a high proportion of negative reviews can cause Amazon to restrict a seller’s privileges, false positive reviews can help sellers avoid the consequences of otherwise poor customer service, he added.

According to Amazon’s complaint, the Amazon Services Business Solutions Agreement that each seller accepts incorporates a Seller Code of Conduct. This document prohibits attempts to “influence or inflate customer ratings, reviews, and reviews,” including paying for reviews.

While Auction Sentinel’s review packages don’t target product reviews, they do attempt to game Amazon’s review rating system.

“Are you a drop shipper who cannot [sic], for God’s sake prevent your accounts from being suspended due to billing requests? says the Auction Sentinel site. “Well, here is the real solution. Amazon does not harass sellers for those once your [sic] place a specific feedback note on your account.

The company attempts to distinguish between product reviews and reviews, describing the former as a “front-end feature for Amazon consumers” and the latter as a “core feature” that sellers need “to avoid account suspensions and blockings”. He further claims that Amazon’s policies make it “extremely difficult for sellers to receive feedback.”

“Auction Sentinel does not believe in minipulation [sic] product reviews [sic] and we have never engaged in selling product reviews,” Auction Sentinel wrote. “Our goal is not to mislead consumers [sic]. Our goal with feedback is to help even the playing field [sic] for new sellers to compete in age [sic] sellers. To be frank, many older amazon sellers are bullies for newer amazon seller stores. They dislike new competition and often engage in sabotage [sic] tactics to weed out new stores that pop up in their lane.

According to Amazon, those who purchase an Auction Sentinel reviews package receive a list of bargain products and their associated Amazon standard ID numbers. They are then prompted to list some of these items on their page. Although they never stock or ship these items, Auction Sentinel then pretends to buy the non-existent products. The company reportedly provides sellers with multiple options to simulate the process of shipping imaginary items, including creating fake tracking numbers and sending empty envelopes. Once the item has been “shipped”, Auction Sentinel provides five-star feedback, increasing the seller’s score, Amazon said.

The e-tailer also challenged Auction Sentinel’s seller account services. Although the website still lists seller account packages for eBay and Etsy, it appears to have removed the ones it offered for Amazon. A disclaimer posted on its “Amazon Seller Account Setup Service” page states:

“For avoidance of confusion, we do not sell preset Amazon accounts. This is an Amazon seller account setup service. All stores are done in real time under the consent of retail owners.

Auction Sentinel’s Amazon page still outlines Auction Sentinel’s logic for offering its seller account services, including its acknowledgment that “Amazon has policies limiting sellers to only one Amazon seller account per household.” A “way around this” is to create multiple seller accounts that Amazon’s system cannot connect or link to others by using different information for each account and running them from different “computer configurations”, a said Auction Sentinel.

The company lists several reasons why someone might want multiple seller accounts, including to have backups in case an account is suspended and “market dominance.” “You want to have an edge over your competitors, having 10 accounts selling at different prices can rip all the sales off your hands,” he writes.

“Amazon has always had an unfair practice of suspending a lot of sellers for what appears to be frivolous reasons,” Auction Sentinel added. “Having multiple Seller stores can split the risk of suspension by splitting your sales on each account. Particularly useful if your sales are massive.

All of these reasons violate Amazon’s policies, the marketplace said.

In addition to allegedly violating its rules, Amazon says Auction Sentinel’s practices undermine consumer trust, tarnish its brand and damage its reputation. The lawsuit references a story the Wall Street Journal published last year about fake Amazon reviews. Two days later, he said, he received a request from Senator Roger Wicker of the Senate Commerce Committee regarding Amazon’s efforts to ensure the authenticity of reviews.

Auction Sentinel’s account services, he added, can expose customers to sellers who have lost selling privileges for “unscrupulous or illegal conduct or poor customer service.” People exposed to these sellers may lose trust in Amazon, which harms its goodwill and reputation.

Amazon’s lawsuit accuses Auction Sentinel of engaging in “unfair and deceptive acts”, breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relationships, and unjust enrichment/disstitution. It seeks to cease and desist from prohibiting Auction Sentinel from selling or facilitating the sale of Amazon reviews and offering “stealth account setup” services. It asked for information “sufficient to identify” each feedback from Amazon and each Auction Sentinel “stealth” sales account it has been paid to create. He also demanded that the company be required to return the related profits and pay damages.

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