Here’s some e-commerce marketing advice: Don’t buy fake reviews! We get it; it’s tempting — but also against regulations! And in China, it can land you a five-year stint in the pokey.
(A quick a note: Although this cautionary tale unfolds in China, U.S. online sellers should pay attention because similar schemes have found their way stateside. Remember: Businesses are responsible for third-party promotions carried out on their behalves. U.S. e-commerce entrepreneurs probably won’t land in jail for using fake review services; but they could end up in a world of financial hurt, courtesy of crushing FTC fines.)
The Brushing Ballad of Mr. Li
Li was his last name and “brushing” — (e.g., faking e-commerce transactions and falsifying reviews) — was his game. He opened shop in 2013 and mainly worked with sellers on Taobao (think: Amazon.com of China). At the request of brands, Li enlisted people to purchase empty packages and post fake — but glowing — reviews. The process helped sellers climb Alibaba’s “credibility” ladder, giving them prime search real estate. By 2014, Li had pocketed nearly one million yuan.
Eventually, however, authorities caught up with the brusher. During his trial, Li said he knew he was breaking Taobao’s rules but didn’t think he was breaching the law. Ultimately, authorities sentenced Li to five years. He’s also on the hook for 920,000 yuan (US $135,000) for “breaking national regulations, knowingly spreading fake information online through publishing services for profit, and disrupting the market order with serious consequences.”
Brushing Is Big, Risky Business
Fake purchase and review operations — a.k.a., “brushing” services — are big, underground business in China, and increasingly in the United States. In 2014, experts estimate that nearly 700 companies, along with 500 chat groups, facilitated brushing scams on over 600 billion yuan worth of sales. Just recently, over 50 people “were arrested in Heilongjiang on suspicion of cheating Taobao stores out of 2.47 million yuan.”
Alibaba, China’s top e-commerce platform, also expanded its fraud-busting efforts. Over the past year, the online retailer has punished over 20,000 sellers for using false transaction services. During the same period, Alibaba banned an additional 6,000 accounts for egregious acts of consumer deception.
Fake Review Enforcement Actions: Genuine or Fake?
Are fake review companies the only phonies?
Many businesses argue that online retail platforms are also knee-deep in deception. But instead of trading in phony reviews, they exaggerate efforts to combat fraud.
Despite detractors, though, Zheng Junfang, Alibaba Group’s chief platform governance officer, recently explained to a media outlet: “Taobao has always dealt strongly with credibility-distorting behavior. We currently have a number of measures in place to counter this, including a verification system, manual audits, and a reporting system for users.”
Are fake reviews issues affecting your business? We Can Help.
As consultants who regularly work with e-commerce professionals, we’ve seen the damaging effects of phony reviews. More importantly, we’ve developed solutions that help companies bounce back.
If an online review matter is causing you problems, let’s talk. Our team has worked with hundreds of businesses — large and small. To read more about online trade libel, head to the consumer review section of our blog.
If you’re ready to discuss your situation with an experienced attorney who can explain your options, please get in touch.
Tone, S. (2017, June 22). In Judicial First, Man Imprisoned for Fake Taobao Reviews. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://www.sixthtone.com/news/1000374/in-judicial-first%2C-man-imprisoned-for-fake-taobao-reviews
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