Fake five-star reviews for books on Amazon can be bought for as little as £3 a time, a newspaper investigation has found.
The Sunday Times has uncovered that one reviewer in the US sold positive reviews of titles for $5 (£3.26) and claimed to have control of more than 70 different accounts in order to leave the reviews.
The practice was uncovered after the newspaper published a fake e-book called Everything Bonsai! written over a single weekend and littered with errors. The newspaper’s journalist then paid the scammers a total of £56 to give the book five-star reviews and take advantage of Amazon's e-book deals to earn it a place at the top of the gardening category of Amazon UK’s Kindle chart.
The newspaper subsequently went on to find that identities of those leaving the ‘reviews’ had been stolen from youngsters on Facebook.
Amazon has since closed the accounts of e-book reviewers who were found to be posting fake reviews in exchange for cash.
A spokesman for Amazon said: “Our goal is to make reviews as useful as possible for customers. We use a number of mechanisms to detect and remove the small fraction of reviews that violate our guidelines, close abusive accounts, and in some cases take legal action. The specific accounts in question have been closed.”
The problem of fake reviews for books online is not a new one. In 2012, crime writer R J Ellory was unmasked as posting ficticious reviews of his own novels and those of other crime writers on Amazon, in a practice known as sock-puppetry.
Following the unmasking, authors such as Lee Child, Mark Billingham, Joanne Harris, Charlie Higson and Tony Parsons signed up to a group statement condemning sock puppetry, with the Society of Authors, calling it "dishonest and misleading."
The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) revealed it has launched an investigation into fake online reviews in June this year.
The body is using its consumer enforcement powers to investigate “a number of companies” in connection with the potential non-disclosure of paid endorsements after hearing about potentially misleading and illegal practices.
Author Jeremy Duns has said the practice is still “rife” in the publishing industry.