How to know when your Amazon account has been targeted by black hat rivals
The shady practise of “black hat” Amazon Sellers disrupting rivals’ accounts has sprung to public attention again in recent weeks.
That centres on the federal indictment of six people in Washington accused of a range of acts that sabotaged competing product listings. The six suspects have been charged with conspiring to pay over $100,000 in bribes to Amazon employees and contractors in exchange for gaining an unfair competitive advantage worth more than $100million on Amazon Marketplace.
The full charge list for the six suspects are: conspiracy to use a communication facility to commit commercial bribery, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorisation, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud.
A report on NBC news went into further detail of the accusations outlined in the indictment. It stated: “The group of individuals - Ed Rosenberg, Joseph Nilsen, Kristen Leccese, Hadis Nuhanovic, Rohit Kadimisetty and Nishad Kunju - allegedly paid more than $100,000 in commercial bribes to Amazon employees and contractors that resulted in more than $100 million in sales for some sellers, according to the indictment. Kadimisetty and Kunju are the only Amazon employees or contractors named in the indictment. Kadimisetty ended his employment with Amazon in December 2015 and Kunju was terminated by the company in August 2018.
“After Kunju was fired, he allegedly started working with Nilsen in December 2018 to reinstate an account suspended for ‘safety issues’ for about $5,700 that was wired to a bank account in India and transferred to an Amazon insider, according to the indictment. That same month an unnamed consultant allegedly paid Nilsen, Leccese and Kunju about $25,000 to flood the listing of a client’s competitor with fake negative reviews that resulted in a product suspension. At another point in February 2018, Rosenberg allegedly sent Nilsen a suitcase with $8,000 in cash via Uber to settle a debt for leaking internal information on Amazon seller accounts and work to lift warehouse storage hazmat limits for a seller.”
The same report also quoted a number of case studies of Amazon Sellers that have found themselves targeted by anticompetitive attacks by rivals.
So what kind of practises could mean that you account has been targeted? Thompson and Holt managing partner Craig Gedey has outlined four key kinds of activity that mean you should contact Amazon immediately.
1. The bullet points on your product listing have changed without you editing them.
2. Your product has been recategorised without your consent.
3. Your product has split into two separate listings.
4. Any of your images have been changed or altered by an outside operator.
5. An increase in poor one star or over the top five star reviews
Thompson and Holt previously reported an increase in fake reviews on Amazon, to read more click here.
Gedey continued: “All of these are indicators that a rival Amazon Seller may have targeted your account in order to gain an unfair advantage. If any of these occur, you should contact Amazon’s support teams immediately, and they insist that their response times are improving. But some of these actions can also lead to suspensions at times - through no fault of yours - and if that happens, contact Thompson and Holt to reinstate your account in the shortest possible time.”
Amazon insists that: “Bad actors that attempt to abuse our systems make up a tiny fraction of activity on our site. If a seller has a concern, we encourage them to reach out to us so we can investigate and take appropriate action, as we’ve done in this case. There is no place for fraud at Amazon and we will continue to pursue all measures to protect our store and hold bad actors accountable”
With the Covid pandemic driving more and more consumers online and towards Amazon it's likely that this year will be a bumper year for Amazon sellers which could lead to an increase in genuine sellers being targeted by rivals. Especially now that Q4 is here and Amazon Prime 2020 has started.
What to do if someone is targeting your products or account?
The first thing you should do is report it to Amazon, if you are lucky enough to have an Amazon account manager inform them, if you don't have an account manager open a ticket in Seller Central.
Try and collect as much evidence as you can, keep screen shots, emails anything that you can keep and provide to Amazon.
Don't retaliate as this is likely to put you and your account at risk.
As this investigation shows Amazon do have the power and resources to investigate black hat tactics and it demonstrates that they are trying to resolve this issue.
What can you do to prevent rivals from sabotaging your products of account?
Ultimately there's not a lot you can do other than watch your listings like a hawk. There are some software services that do alert you should there be significant changes to listings or issues that would cause a suspension, one of the best software services that helps is Monitor and Protect. For a free months trial please sign up here. In September Monitor and Protect prevented over 4,895 ASIN and account suspensions.