Six people have been indicted by a grand jury in Washington state for bribing Amazon employees to manipulate lists of third-party sellers on the e-commerce site, including lists of defective or unsafe products, the said. authorities.
As of 2017, people, including two former Amazon employees, paid over $ 100,000 to have listings of products and accounts that Amazon had blocked or suspended from its marketplace, allowing third-party sellers to promote and sell their products, the Justice Department said. Former employees also provided inside information to Amazon that allowed attacks on other third-party sellers and their accounts, including flooding sellers’ product listings with fake negative reviews, authorities said.
The defendants were given access to contact details of Amazon employees and customers, which they shared widely, authorities said. Three of the people were based in New York, one in Georgia, one in California and one in India,
“Realizing that they couldn’t compete on an equal footing, subjects turned to corruption and fraud in order to gain the upper hand. Equally concerning, not only have they tried to increase sales of their own products, but have also sought to harm and discredit their competitors, ”Raymond Duda, FBI Seattle special agent, said in a statement. .
The reinstated product lists included dietary supplements that had been removed for safety reasons, home electronics that had been flagged as flammable, products that had been withdrawn for intellectual property infringement, and other items. Some of the re-established accounts had been suspended for posting misleading product reviews, while others had been deleted for making “inappropriate contact with consumers,” as well as other violations of Amazon policies.
“Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior by salespeople or employees, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activities,” the company said in a statement. “We are particularly disappointed with the actions of this limited group of former employees and appreciate the collaboration and support of law enforcement in bringing them and the bad actors they were linked to justice.”
Amazon’s continued struggles with third-party sellers and its marketplace were in the spotlight this summer, as lawmakers questioned CEO Jeff Bezos in an antitrust hearing before the House Judiciary Committee over counterfeiting concerns and of alleged anti-competitive behavior by the retailer itself: Amazon has been accused of copying Marketplace products to create its own competing products, a claim the company has denied.
Analysts estimated that third-party sellers accounted for about half of the site’s sales. Third-party sellers appear in normal Amazon listings, with a line of text to indicate that Amazon itself is not the actual seller.
The six defendants in Washington state face charges of wire fraud, corruption and unauthorized access to protected computer systems. Charges of wire fraud carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.