An investigation has revealed that fake reviews for internet products are being bought and sold online.
They are also able to buy bogus five-star recommendations on Trustpilot, one of the world’s leading and most trusted review websites, according to BBC 5 live Investigates.
Such online review sites are becoming increasingly popular with businesses and customers.
Some three quarters of British adults use them, of which half believe they have seen fake reviews, according to a survey of 1,500 people by the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
The Government estimates false reviews could affect £23billion of customer spending every year.
Both Amazon and Trustpilot insist they have a zero-tolerance approach to the issue.
In 2016, Amazon vowed to clamp down on so-called ‘incentivised reviews’, which involve businesses offering customers free products if they leave good reviews.
However, industry experts claim the measures have not worked. The BBC found several Facebook groups where potential Amazon customers were encouraged to buy a product and leave a review in return for their money back.
One person making such an offer told an undercover BBC reporter: ‘Five-star is better for us. We value our brand, will refund you as we promised… All my company do in this way.’ Responding to an advert on eBay, the BBC was also able to purchase a Trustpilot recommendation.
The review later appeared word-for-word, as requested, on the website.
It read: ‘Dan Box is one of the most respected professionals I have dealt with. It was a pleasure doing business with him.’
Tommy Noonan, owner of ReviewMeta, a U.S. website that analyses online reviews, estimates that as many as half of reviews for some goods on Amazon could be unreliable.
He said: ‘Sellers are trying to game the system and there’s a lot of money on the table.
If you can rank number one for, say, bluetooth headsets and you’re selling a cheap product, you can make a lot of money.’ Many businesses insist online review websites are replacing traditional advertising.
Maria Menelaou, owner of the top-ranked fish and chip shop in Blackpool on several review sites, said: ‘It brings us a lot of customers… It really does make a difference. We don’t do any kind of advertising.’
An Amazon spokesman said: ‘We do not permit reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment. Customers and Marketplace sellers must follow our review guidelines and those that don’t will be subject to action including potential termination of their account.’
Trustpilot said they have ‘a zero-tolerance policy towards any misuse,’ adding: ‘We have specialist software that screens reviews against 100’s of data points around the clock to automatically identify and remove fakes.’ eBay has banned the sale of fake reviews and said such listings are removed.