NCL urges FTC to prohibit user review manipulation

January 10, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON DC. – The National Consumers League (NCL) this week filed comments in support of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulation to ensure the reliability of user reviews. In its comments, NCL urged the FTC to prohibit user reviews from individuals who did not purchase a product or service (or are misrepresenting their experiences with a product or service) and to prohibit sellers from manipulating consumer reviews. In addition, the League advocated for the Commission to require hosts of user reviews to implement measures to protect review integrity, such as requiring purchase verification.  

“Consumers frequently cite user reviews as a key factor when deciding what to buy,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “As a result, fake endorsements steer billions of dollars each year towards certain products and away from competitors. The impacts range from buyers receiving goods of poorer quality than expected to serious safety risks.” 

NCL also encouraged the FTC to prohibit the commercial exploitation of social media engagement metrics, such as buying and selling likes, comments, or shares. Such practices can be used to boost fraudulent product reviews and endorsements, allowing bad actors to manipulate social media platforms to broaden their reach. 

“Right now, it is extremely easy to spend a few dollars and receive hundreds of likes, followers, or other signals that a product or service is of high quality,” said Eden Iscil, NCL Public Policy Manager. “By jumpstarting a post with purchased engagement, the content has a greater chance of reaching a real audience—and being believed by them. Such practices not only affect consumers making purchasing decisions but can also be used to spread other types of misinformation.” 

The FTC initiated this regulatory process following NCL’s request for greater federal enforcement against organized user review fraud, which can be found here 

NCL’s full comments to the FTC can be found here. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit https://nclnet.org.

Breyault and Amazon’s Alyssa Betz discuss policing fake reviews and counterfeits

 

By NCL Staff

 

This week, John Breyault, our Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud, sat down with Amazon’s Director of Public Policy, Alyssa Betz. On this episode of NCL’s We Can Do This! podcast, Alyssa and John discussed fake reviews, Amazon’s product liability, and more. This has been the latest collaboration between Amazon and NCL in our partnership towards improving consumer safety and online experiences.  

Fake Reviews 

With users increasingly relying on user reviews to make buying decisions, having access to trustworthy reviews is critical for consumers. Last month, Amazon sued a group of review brokers who were allegedly paying for fake reviews at large scale. In addition to discussing the suit, Betz outlined some of the steps they have taken to ensure that user reviews are trustworthy and accurately reflect consumers’ experiences. 

Counterfeits 

Given the vast number of products sold through nearly two million sellers worldwide, Amazon has an enormous responsibility to ensure consumer safety. Alyssa discussed some of the measures Amazon has taken to reduce criminals’ ability to operate on their platform, including investing over $700 million and employing more than ten thousand people to protect its store from fraud and abuse, including counterfeit products.

To hear the full episode, including John and Alyssa’s conversation about product liability and how to spot those phony Amazon delivery phishing texts, click here. 

If you have received suspicious communications or packages claiming to be from Amazon, you can find Amazon’s support page here. 

Tech support scammers dupe consumers – National Consumers League

sg.jpgEver heard of a tech support scam? Well, a very smart, savvy member of my family fell victim to one this week.My family member, who we will refer to as Sherry, was working on her laptop when she clicked on an ad. Clicking on that ad ending up installing malware on her computer, which then put up warning messages on her screen telling her that her computer was infected. A helpline phone number was displayed—appearing to be Microsoft tech support. Sherry, in a panic, called the phone number, which was actually a scammer. Unbeknownst to Sherry, she allowed him to remotely access her computer while she was on the phone with him. The scammer led Sherry to believe he was running a scan for viruses, but he was really scanning her computer’s information and possibly attempting to damage her hard drive so that Sherry would have to pay him money to “fix” it. Sherry’s computer, just like all of ours, is full of important work data, personal contact information, financial documentation, and more that we wouldn’t want anyone else to have access to. Before Sherry committed to giving this man her credit card information, a friend advised her to hang up with the scammer, shut her computer down, and disconnect it from the Internet.

From an FTC Post on tech support scams:

In a recent twist, scam artists are using the phone to try to break into your computer. They call, claiming to be computer techs associated with well-known companies like Microsoft. They say that they’ve detected viruses or other malware on your computer to trick you into giving them remote access or paying for software you don’t need.

These scammers take advantage of your reasonable concerns about viruses and other threats. They know that computer users have heard time and again that it’s important to install security software. But the purpose behind their elaborate scheme isn’t to protect your computer; it’s to make money.

This is exactly what Sherry experienced. Her scammer assured her that he was fixing her computer issues, while she asked several times if he was being honest. He responded, “You have to trust me.” Two days later, Sherry has been told not connect her computer to the Internet, which is vital to her work. She’s also waiting for the other shoe to drop – what happens when her friends start getting solicitations to help Sherry out of a travel jam and wire money to some phony address? Or who knows what other damage these scammers have done to her personal information linked to the laptop? There are many implications to this type of scam that can be very detrimental to one’s financial, work, and personal life.

So consumers, please, sign up for Fraud Alerts, which will warn you and your family on the latest scams. Read this Fraud Alert for more information on tech support scams. The more consumers know what to look for, the less likely you are to get duped. NCL’s Fraud.org is here to help! Microsoft also provides tips on how to avoid tech support phone scams here.