Resources - Blog
Is a Bad Actor Targeting You? Detect and Protect Yourself From the Latest Amazon Threat
Stay on top of the latest e-commerce and marketplace trends.
You have a target on your back. If you read this blog regularly, you are likely a high-volume seller, which makes other sellers want what you have. That’s normal competition. What is not normal is how sellers are going about it these days. As if dealing with Amazon’s complexities is not enough, sellers now must detect and protect themselves from bad actors who are deliberately utilizing tactics to get their unsuspecting victims removed from the platform.
There are dozens of tricks, but these are the ones we see the most often — and what you can do about them:
1. Review manipulation
2. Fraudulent IP takedowns
3. Listing mischief
I am not talking about the kind of review manipulation that Amazon normally suspends sellers for, which is compensating buyers for reviews or other tactics that sellers utilize to grow reviews on their own accounts.
Bad actors are leaving fake reviews on competitor’s products — either obviously fake and 5-star or negative 1-stars chock full of bad keywords like “fake, harm, fear, safety, sick, counterfeit.” These reviews are intended to trigger the algorithm and take you out for either fake reviews, product safety, or quality issues.
In another bad move, they are stealing positive reviews from old products and merging them into their brand new competitive listing, so they suddenly have hundreds of reviews compared to your dozens. A case I worked on this week had a bad actor selling for less than six months on the platform with more than 150 reviews on a pet supplement that sprang up overnight. When I read the older reviews, I discovered that the product used to be a cat toy in 2018 and a pet chew toy in 2017. There were, in fact, only about five reviews for the current product. Buzzfeed calls this tactic “brushing” and it is rampant on the platform right now.
Fraudulent IP Takedowns
The permutations of this tactic are seemingly endless. The key component is the bad actor acquires some intellectual property, registers it (with Brand Registry and — sometimes — the USPTO) and then accuses you of infringement. Their goal is to keep you out of commission while their product accelerates to the top of page one.
A recent tactic is in the area of design patents. They look for products that are selling high-volume (often they purchase black market lists to get your exact sales information from Amazon) where there is a distinctive design that has not been trademarked. They trademark your product, create their identical product, and then launch their product either right before or shortly after they have registered with Brand Registry. Then, they claim your product violates their design patent and your listings are permanently removed. Not only is this tactic unethical, but it is a federal crime.
We also see a lot of false claims of counterfeit, trademark infringement, inauthentic goods, etc. Infringement makes such a great takedown because it takes a long time to get back on the platform, assuming you can even convince Amazon that you are in the right. They do not like to get involved in seller disputes and tend to side with the rights owner.
The recent Xawy and Plotchy scam is an example of this. These two sellers managed to convince Amazon they were the rights owners to thousands of listings which they changed. Sellers who tried to get their listings reverted back were told they had to negotiate with the “rights owner.”
These companies do not own the rights to the products they took down, and we have not quite figured out how they are getting away with this. Some of our clients had 75 or more listings taken down for all kinds of brands and products that were claimed by one of these two companies. Despite hundreds of complaints flooding Amazon’s inboxes, nothing has been done to reach a resolution.
With this tactic, the bad actor changes your listing and gets you in trouble with Amazon for a wide range of reasons including variations abuse, offensive content, “Not as Described,” “Inauthentic,” “Safety,” improper category changes, and more. How do they do this?
1. Vendor Central – In China, sellers buy and sell accounts in WeChat groups that have Vendor Central access for the sole purpose of being able to change other sellers’ listings. Not only can they do it from there, but their changes are logged as being made by Amazon itself. Their changes take priority over your changes, even if you are the brand owner. We have seen listings changed dramatically to having obscene pictures, confusing language, or outright lies, all guaranteeing a poor buyer experience and a swift takedown by Amazon.
2. Claiming your listings through Brand Registry. If they can convince Amazon that your listings are their listings, then they can make changes to your listings and you can not stop them without a lot of effort and — frequently — legal help.
3. Flat file uploads – One of our clients was having all of his listings changed every single day. He worked tirelessly with the catalog team who could see what was happening, but they couldn’t stop the bad actor because he was uploading a flat file spreadsheet with listing changes, but used a different seller account every day. In other words, this bad actor had dozens of stealth accounts.
Amazon’s Seller Performance team could take one down, but a new one popped up the next day. Sometimes they do not need to change your listing, they just move you into another category or subcategory where you will no longer be the top (or near the top) seller. We have seen product categories changed to adult so not only do innocent sellers lose their places during search, but they can not advertise their products either.
Most of our clients do not detect these activities until it is too late, and they need to be reinstated. Afterward, we set them up with a detection process that involves daily and weekly monitoring:
- Real-time alerts for ASIN changes so the seller can act quickly
- Product reviews, both positive and negative
- Seller reviews, both positive and negative
- The returns report so sellers can see what the buyers are saying and look for patterns
- Buyer-seller messages; the buyers sometimes leave their algorithm triggering comments in emails to you
- Amazon fee changes – your product is suddenly bigger and/or heavier than before, costing you all your profit margin in a product
- Category changes
Once you know what you are looking for, you can detect problems before Amazon suspends you or your listings. It is important to note that nothing can detect fraudulent IP complaints ahead of time or stop a suspension for counterfeit — Amazon has zero tolerance for these complaints. Really bad safety complaints are also usually “one strike and you’re out” if they involve someone getting sick, a rash, a product catching on fire, etc.
Regular monitoring and detecting are the first line of defense against bad actors. Next is fighting back and letting them know you are not an easy target. The most common ways to fight include:
- Filing “Report a Violation” cases
- Telling Amazon what is going on before they take you down, which is especially important for fake 5-star reviews
- Owning intellectual property; many sellers lose their rights because they did not trademark their brands, copyrights, design patents or utility patents.
- Amazon’s Project Zero program: Three tactics in one designed to stamp out counterfeit.
- Amazon’s Exclusives program: For the right seller, this is an excellent way to get extra marketing support from Amazon and unofficial brand gating.
- Lawsuits: Our clients have filed numerous business and IP lawsuits against bad actors and won. This is not the fastest way to resolve a problem, but it is very effective. If you win, you will get Amazon’s support and take out a bad actor.
Reporting a violation does not always work. Sometimes Amazon ignores our cases, but at least it is free, and they act swiftly if they are going to act. The mistakes most sellers make when filing violations are not building a solid case for Amazon or overwhelming them with unnecessary information. You need evidence and reasonable reasons for your suspicions.
If you detect someone leaving fake positive reviews on your listing, you need to report it immediately to Amazon. File a case asking them to remove the listings because they are fake and make it clear that you did not do this. This will not stop you from being suspended for fake reviews (the algorithm works independently of Seller Support and Seller Performance), but it will make it easier to get back. You can point to the case you filed and say “See? I told you they were fake!” It works.
For negative reviews, it is nearly impossible to get them removed unless you can somehow prove that the reviewers are bogus or were incentivized to leave a bad review. That’s always a tough one. Sometimes we can find that proof and sometimes we can’t.
Awareness is half the battle against bad actors. Once you know what they are doing, you can fight back. Once you know how they do it, you can collect evidence. If you are not already monitoring your account weekly for the items listed above, start now. Do not let the bad guys catch you unaware.
Learn what Feedvisor can do for your business.
When you partner with Feedvisor, you automatically receive access to our true, AI-driven technology and hands-on team of e-commerce experts. Contact one of our team members today to learn more about our end-to-end solution for brands and large sellers on Amazon, Walmart, and e-marketplaces.