Amid coronavirus pandemic, N95 mask listings on Amazon flooded with fake reviews

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Although Amazon has taken steps to ban countless scam products that claim to cure or treat coronavirus, the retailer is still flooded with third-party sellers using bogus reviews and other manipulative methods to sell fake N95 masks to panicked people.

A Gizmodo scrape of 75 products returned from a search for “N95 Medical Masks” on Amazon revealed thousands of “verified purchase” reviews across 13 different products that were likely generated by bots or were plagiarized from completely unrelated products.

The problem of fake reviews is nothing new for the Seattle-based company, of course. A British consumer report in April 2019 found that many tech products were being boosted by fake reviews. Just 24 pairs of headphones contained 10,000 reviews from unverified purchasers, a strong sign of being fake.

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Andrea Wyatt of Inglewood, Calif., wears a mask as she collects her concessions at the Paramount Drive-In Theatres, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Paramount, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Andrea Wyatt of Inglewood, Calif., wears a mask as she collects her concessions at the Paramount Drive-In Theatres, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Paramount, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Last March, for the first time ever, the Federal Trade Commission took an Amazon seller to court for allegedly purchasing fake reviews to boost a product on the platform.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., sent the FTC a letter that urged the agency to crack down on online scams related to COVID-19.

"The FTC should not allow any consumer to suffer from a scam or predatory business practice during this public health emergency," the letter states.

Saoud Khalifah, the founder and CEO of Fakespot, a firm using machine learning to find fake reviews and fraud as a way to make online shopping more transparent, told Gizmodo the third-party sellers "are using fake reviews to pump their product when people search for antiviral masks. Our system gives all the aforementioned examples F and D grade for fraud and people should be wary buying them.”

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According to Gizmodo, Fakespot uses a database of over 6 billion reviews to train a machine learning model to “recognize patterns of inauthenticity and deception” in Amazon listings.

A spokesperson for Amazon provided Fox News with the following statement via email:

"We work hard every day to protect our shoppers and sellers. Bad actors that attempt to abuse our systems make up a tiny fraction of activity on our site. We use sophisticated tools, including machine learning, to combat them, and we are making it increasingly difficult for bad actors to hide. These bad actors show a flagrant disregard for our community, our policies, and in some cases, the law, and do not reflect the flourishing community of honest entrepreneurs that make up the vast majority of our sellers."

Amazon told sellers last week that the platform would be blocking new listings for face masks, hand sanitizer, or other coronavirus-related products. This week, the tech giant said warehouses would only be receiving shipments of “household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products” until April 5.

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