SOME TOP SELLERS ON AMAZON WENT AS FAR AS PAYING $10,000 TO GET WHERE THEY ARE
Amazon is fighting black hat companies who are set out to undermine every measure it takes towards improving its overall customer service. Per documents obtained by a news outlet, BuzzFeed News, a fast-growing black market helps Amazon sellers to get to the top of the marketplace pyramid at exorbitant prices.
Amazon boasts of millions of third-party sellers whose sales make up 58% of the total on the platform. According to stats by marketplacepulse.com, only 10,000 of these sellers have managed to climb to the top of the ladder. However, the question of whether they got there through legit means cannot be answered.
The Amazon marketplace is a battleground where millions of sellers struggle; to rank high in searches, be on Amazon’s list of most successful products, and get positive reviews from customers. The e-commerce community is no ground for the lazy! The heated competition to remain relevant in the marketplace birthed the black market, to where sellers run when they need fortification.
These hidden, yet popular markets, reportedly offer black hat services, which most times bypass Amazon’s rules and regulations. By so doing, they give their clients an advantage over their competitors. For instance, if a third-party seller bags an Amazon suspension for violating amazon sellers terms and conditions, such a seller would probably use the services of the black-hatters even when they could seek Amazon Legal Help
Many of these illegal companies use techniques that include manipulating Amazon’s product ranking system using private link networks. They go to the extent of protecting the accounts from disciplinary actions from Amazon. Some employees at the e-commerce company allegedly accept bribes from these black hats in exchange for confidential information which would be sold to the marketplace sellers at ridiculously high prices.
As reported by BuzzFeed News, a black hat company make as much as $10,000 per client to promote a product, keeping it on top of the search results. The company’s other services include deleting bad reviews from product pages and exploiting the security vulnerabilities of the system for a seller’s financial gain.
Not only do black hat companies and their clients violate Amazon’s terms of service, but they also lead customers astray and compromise the trust in Amazon’s product. The black hats’ unethical tactics also make loyal sellers feel insecure in the competition.
Renee Diresta, a director of research at a cybersecurity company, told BuzzFeed that “the extent to which sellers go to game the system, and the number of resources they devote to doing it” only show how much Amazon’s ranking algorithms affect sales and consumption. The manipulative tactics of the devious sellers, as easy as paying for fake reviews, make the buyers of Amazon product victims of their frauds.
Amazon’s effort to curb the activities of the black hat economy doesn’t seem to be yielding good results. Some third-party sellers on the e-commerce site told BuzzFeed News that the epidemy of black hat methods is widespread such that when one seller is nabbed for using these fraudulent methods, another one, maybe even more, takes their place. The sellers who get suspended don’t end their illegal practices there.
Up to this point, Amazon has chosen to remain silent on the particular black hat companies involved in this story. It, however, the news outlet that these “bad actors” account for a substantial fraction of the activities on the site.
Davide Nicolucci, an Amazon consulting and director of the Amazon marketing consulting firm Growth Hack, expressed that he disapproves of the unethical practices of these black hat on Amazon. According to our source, the Amazon consultant explained that the competition posed by the black hats makes it hard for some sellers to stick to their rules and regulations while trying to advance in the marketplace. He also mentioned that waiting on Amazon to solve your issues as a seller might even cost you as much as you’d spend patronizing a black hat company. “It’s crazy. It’s a war,” Nicolucci said.
The black hat economy continues to flourish like a rose despite the thorns that surround it, with Amazon’s effort to fight them being the thorns. Their tricks seem easy, but they are not as easy to resist. By merely typing “super URL” into YouTube’s search box you’d find a long list of vlogs trying to teach you the art of manipulating Amazon’s ranking system by inserting specific keywords into a product URL. This tricks the system into believing actual shoppers are finding a product and are adding it to their carts and wishlists. Amazon black hatters often organize conferences and events online and offline where Amazon sellers network. Most of these black hat services are readily available and accessible to sellers; it’s as easy as sending a Facebook message.
BuzzFeed News allegedly obtained documents that revealed the list of available services at a specific black hat company called AmzPandora. AmzPandora reportedly offers to give a thumbs up on an Amazon seller’s product review at $1 and charges $10,000 for suspended ASIN reinstatement services. The official site of the black hat consulting firm, AmzPandora.com, is said to have disappeared after the news agency contacted the owner. AmzPandora’s consultant, identified to be a China-based businessman named John Zhu, also operates another black hat site called ClockWorks.deepbrief.net which also went offline as soon as they were found.
Before its disappearance, his menu of services includes getting information about why Amazon suspensions happen from insiders at Amazon for $500. That package also provides an Amazon product appeal service. When contacted over Skype some months ago, Zhu told the outlet that his company charges $550 for a service called “selling status removed check.” This service allows him to provide his clients, who are facing Seller Account Suspensions on the marketplace, with reasons why their accounts got suspended. He explained that his company pays Amazon premium account managers about $2,500 in exchange for the information. Zhu, however, at that time, stated that the service “is currently not working.”
AmzPandora’s clients can get rid of negative product reviews within a week for a token of $300. The company also writes a “super URL” for $1.5 only. While getting a product featured on “frequently bought together” items costs $1,200 which would earn the seller a 10% sales increase as promised by AmzPandora. Amazon is also not willing to share any information about AmzPandora’s services.
Are there no legit ways to go about the reinstatement of a suspended Amazon account? There are hundreds of certified Amazon account and ASIN reinstatement specialists who provide amazon legal services and are ready to guide you on how to instate account suspended appeal. Some of these legal firms provide a wide range of services, including amazon seller advocacy. These are better ways for sellers to approach their challenges in the marketplace. Does the black hat endemic not make you wonder why people choose the illegal means?
Some of the sellers who patronize the black hatters may be misled and made to believe they are violating no rules. A report obtained from our source says that John Zhu never admitted that his business violates the Amazonian laws. According to BuzzFeed News, Zhu claimed that they, at AmzPandora, mainly use publicly available information, like customer contact and email address from platforms like Facebook or even Google. “This is what everybody else [does],” he said before he hung up and stopped responding to subsequent attempts to get more details.
Mr. Zhu seemed to have shot himself right in the leg long before his conversation with BuzzFeed News. During a recording of an edition of the ClockWorks seminar, he stated that he used information obtained from employees at Amazon. He further advised the sellers in attendance to guard the tactics with jealousy so as not to lose them if Amazon catches wind of them.
During the seminar, Zhu also boasted of being able to pull an accurate analysis of a product listing which allows his seller clients to identify their competitors and ways to attack them. He also showed the attendees how the product ranking system operates. “I don’t make this stuff up. It’s from Amazon internal,” he said, trying to prove the validity of his services.
Amazon shared that it has built sophisticated security measures to cutoff illegal access to the company’s information. There are also disciplinary measures against an employee who doesn’t respect the code of ethics, such as contract termination and legal penalties from Amazon Lawyers. Sellers who pay to get confidential information are not spared as well; some of them will face their seller account suspensions for it, while some punishment could be as minimal as suspensions and losing funds and reviews. Amazon refused to confirm Zhu’s claims about the availability of such information and whether he got it from insiders at the company.
Zhu’s two-hour seminar also included introducing to subscribers a long list of benefits and tricks they can get by using a “Cobra account” on ClockWorks. The black hat consultant took his clients through a step-by-step guide to snatching product listings from their original owners. He also told them they could use the “Lighting Deal” feature on Amazon without paying the required $150 fee. He added that they could snag any “Vine Voice” reviews on their products.
The other part of his lecture included teaching sellers how to undermine the efforts of other sellers who are also trying to make it to the top. This seems to be the extreme of it all. Zhu taught his clients how to create fake Amazon buyer accounts using untraceable credit cards to write negative reviews and flood the seller’s Amazon inbox with sabotaging messages with words like “broken,” “fake,” “counterfeit,” “damaged” occurring multiple times. This is done to get their competitors suspended or outrightly terminated. Zhu also assured sellers in the seminar that his company would provide the Cobra account users with immunity such that they cannot be traced even when they downvote reviews of their competitors. For their fellow sellers who fall, victims of these evils, some go through a long and tiring process of getting back their accounts, most of which are unsuccessful. The smart ones seek amazon suspensions help from sellers attorney, advocate, or lawyer who takes them through a step-by-step reinstatement process which includes writing a good plan of action. Get advice overwriting a perfect Amazon POA by connecting to our professional suspension consultants.
Over the years, Amazon has not relented in fighting against the fraudulent practices that try to overwhelm its marketplace. Last December, the e-commerce market launched a crackdown on employees who disregards its code of ethics, such as sharing customers’ personal information in exchange for inducements. But the black hat marketplace is so extensive such that Amazon’s attempts to fight bad actors could be likened to whack-a-mole. As soon as one problem is fixed, another appears.
Amazon forbids its third-party sellers from accessing their customers’ contacts as such acts try to evade using the provided Amazon’s messaging system. As an Amazon seller, the terms of service prohibit you from making “any attempt to manipulate sales rank.” A seller can violate these terms by taking fake orders, paying people to buy their products, and buying fake reviews. Amazon also friends sellers who create multiple accounts and fake traffic on their products. It is worthy of note that AmzPandora, who denies violating any of Amazon’s terms, offers all these services to their clients.
Even though the black hat sellers operate in secret, their services are quite easy to access. A site, known as Black Hat Tech — blackhattech.asinspy.net — allows buyers to place an order via WeChat. For 1,500 Chinese Yuan, Black Hat Tech would get rid of negative reviews for its client while it would also tweak reviews and get their client’s product to the top for 41,000 Chinese Yuan (which equates to over $6000 US). Black Hat Tech declined to speak with BuzzFeed News as regards their services.
“Amazon invests significant resources (in protecting) the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers,” Amazon said. Amazon told BuzzFeed News it relies on teams of investigators, automated technology, and machine learning technology to prevent and detect inauthentic reviews at scale, and to take action against the bad actors behind the abuse. Its team also works with social media sites to stop inauthentic reviews that are curated in private groups, it said. “Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners, and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.” Instead of patronizing the stables of these con artists, a seller who is faced with suspension or other issues might as well get an attorney to address amazon suspensions for a token which might be a lot cheaper than what the black hatters charge. Don’t you think?
A black hat consultant spoke with BuzzFeed News on the condition of keeping him anonymous. According to the reports, he can reinstate a restricted or suspended account and he charges the sellers based on the degree of the violation. This translates to “the more your offense, the more you pay to redeem your account.” This he does by pulling his few strings with insiders at Amazon who are mostly based outside of the US. So, in exchange for their good works, he helps them with their immigration papers into the US. Dor sellers who lost their accounts to complaints like slow shipping rates, he charges them about $2,000. Sellers who face account suspensions for selling counterfeit goods pay more; about $4,000 – $4,500; as Amazon has strong policies against such.
The consultant admitted to the fact that their services are against the rules, but he can’t help third-party sellers fight their biggest challenge, which is Amazon. He likened the two parties to David and Goliath respectively.
He also mentioned to the reporters that he has, many times, been “on the phone with a crying grown man who has just lost his entire business.”
BuzzFeed News also found out about another black hat site, Seller Mafia, run by a certain Howard Thai a.k.a “Professor of Amazon.” When discovered, the Shenzhen-based consultant allegedly denied offering black hat services as seen on his websites. As seen on the site, Seller Mafia provides a wide range of services, which includes writing a “super URL.” The most of expensive of its services happen to be the “stealth ranking system,” a plan which allows a third-party seller’s product to appear in query results when an Amazon buyer inputs specific keywords on their product into the search box. Seller Mafia would rank a client’s product for $2,000 by creating a relationship between the product and highly competitive keywords. The company does this by writing an Amazon URL with the client’s product name and specific keyword embedded in it. It then employs bots or people to click on the link. This simulates that a lot of people are searching for that particular product. Sellers can also buy a backup “stealth account” on SellerMafia.com for $1,000. The idea is that sellers can use their second account just in case they get “hit by a competitor,” BuzzFeed reported.
Seller Mafia seems to have cheaper plans which could even discourage sellers from patronizing Amazon Sellers’ Advocacy. The black hat company would take only $5 to “brush” a seller’s account. “Brush” in the sense that the reviews and other information of an existing product page are deleted and then listed with new products, an act which violates Amazon’s terms of service. This poses the new product with a 5-star rating and tricks the seller into buying it. However, buyers who carefully read through reviews and product details might not fall victim to this scam.
BuzzFeed News obtained a video ad, which is only available to subscribers on Seller Mafia’s site, featuring a seller named Kevin Zhang sharing the testimony of how his product went up on the rankings after using Howard Thai’s services. “Before we used the brushing system, we never imagined we could rank into the top 10 of Amazon,” Zhang said in the marketing video. He continued to talk about how he made it to the top 10 thanks to Thai.
Reports have it that some sellers who use the services of the black hatters expressed their reluctance to do so. However, they did it to keep up with their rivals. A seller who patronizes Howard Thai asked to remain anonymous and told BuzzFeed News that he’d tried different versions of the black hat tactics since 2014 when Amazon’s marketplace became compromised. He said he discovered that other sellers use dirty selling tactics such as offering free products in exchange for positive reviews. The seller also got to know about people who earn a living from writing fake reviews. “Everybody is doing it,” he lamented. He continued to say that people would continue to do it as long as sellers who use black hats are thriving than those who pay for honest ads. This anonymous seller acknowledged that his sales went from $73,000 a year to $3 million a year with the help of Seller Mafia. He explained that it is better to patronize the black hatters than pay for Amazon’s costly ads.
Alongside providing sellers with illicit selling tactics on his website, Thai told BuzzFeed News that he hosts conferences and seminars where sellers who are willing to learn black hat techniques for “educational purposes” pay $10,000. The “Professor of Amazon” hosted a two-day workshop in New York City with about 30 people in attendance. Thai told the news outlet that the purpose of his seminars is not to teach sellers how to cheat; he is only teaching them “what people are doing out there in China.” “We don’t just do only black; he said, “we do a lot of white,” which infers that he also exposes sellers to helpful tips that do not violate the marketplace rules.
On the contrary, Thai, during a free webinar in March, talked about upcoming training in Shenzhen and expressly emphasized the illegal nature of his services. He promised to reveal Amazon’s “most controversial secrets” to attendees almost for nothing. Attendees also get to know the “EXACT strategies that have hacked Chinese sellers” to all-time success on Amazon. Thai gave no specifics as to what they’d learn, but he emphasized that attendees “will receive UNFAIR amounts of competitive intelligence into (their) competitors,” which would help outmaneuver the rivals.”
Former Amazon Seller Performance Investigator, Chris McCabe, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that black hat consultants and their clients have proven to be experts at not getting caught by Amazon despite its sophisticated measures to track them.
The former Amazonian who now runs a reputable Amazon sellers consulting firm, ecommerceChris.com, also said: “Targeted sellers must constantly use defensive tactics through the brand registry and reports to policy teams to counter the abuses, which takes away from brand development and revenue growth.”
It is indeed hard to curb the excesses of these black hat companies. “They’re always going to figure it out. Whatever the machine makes there’s a human to manipulate it,” said the US-based seller who relies on Seller Mafia for his sales.
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