The Amazon Photography Review Scam

Scams are nothing new. They come in many forms and are especially popular right now while people are vulnerable. However, this scam is something that has seemingly been going on for a very long time.

Just over a year ago, I started a YouTube channel to discuss commercial photography. One of the strange side effects to this is being bombarded with emails offering free gear or gear in exchange for reviews in a YouTube video. However, amongst the more genuine offers, there are emails where folks are asking you to do something a little different.

I couldn't work out if this scam was to steal money from your account or to get free publicity with no risk or maybe even a combination of the two. If I can work out how to reduce the risk to just losing the value of a small item, I may set up new accounts to find out (do let me know if you already know the answer to this). Having since headed back to Amazon's review section, these reviews are now very easy to spot. As I discuss in this video, the reviews and ratings of equipment are very, very far from reliable on Amazon.

Were you aware of this scam?  

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Robert Lype's picture

This has been going on for a while being a photojournalist weekly there is numerous request for gear reviews and the same scam.
Have you gotten request for jobs out of the realm of your specialty for instance some scammer want me to shoot a wedding that doesnt exist to access my account numbers After getting tired of it I contacted local law enforcement and went through the process just find out they were out of the country

Billy Paul's picture

They probably want you to buy the item so the review gets marked with 'verified purchase' and yes I would not be surprised if a majority of reviews on Amazon are fake.

What does

make of the reviews for these products? Pretty disgusting that a 3rd party does more to guard Amazon customers from fake reviews than Amazon does.

Robert Lype's picture

Amazon is destroying businesses all over the world just because of that and for folks like us here in Fairbanks Alaska is putting a lot of folks out of work. Our local camera shop here in town was struggling to keep a float the final blow was the COVID 19 issue. I support local business being one my self this hit hard.
Just the other day another local photographer called me needing sensor cleaning liquid which I had I was happy to help him out. Now the closest other camera shop is in Anchorage 360 miles away and they were out. Granted the make a air travel safe sensor cleaning fluid which can be shipped it is not quite up to par. 80percent of our consumer goods come via airfreight, nobody will ship Lithium Ion batteries or flammable liquids via air freight so it has to go ground to Seattle and then by boat to anchorage and back to ground shipping. Amazon wont even go the extra mile to help us out and if they do ship to Alaska charge us an extra fee since it going to Alaska via FedEx or UPS even with both of them having international hubs in Anchorage. Forget Amazon shipping US postal service they wont do it and neither will B&H or Admora which it cost just as much to ship across the street than it does to Alaska.
This online shopping is not great as some folks think

Just me's picture

Amazon filled a gap in the retail business.
This is not Amazon to blame as they are not forcing you to use their system
Online ticketing killed the travel agencies.
Google killed the yellow page and Encyclopedia book.
YouTube and Netflix are killing TV broadcasters.
The world is moving to another business models that pleased the greater numbers of customers.

Robert Lype's picture

The customers that is pleasing cant figure out why the are stuck in traffic because Amazon is delivering stuff to their house which they could have picked it up at the store they
just drove buy which in the verge of going out of business laying of their neighbor.
Goggle is the biggest invasion of privacy the world has ever seen surviving off selling peoples info for a profit
I travel quite a bit and have a good relation ship with my travel agent which deals directly with the airlines and hotels
All these businesses are going to end up like Adobe imaging programs was inexpensive at start now it a major expense.
I t doesnt work for everyone nor please us all

Just me's picture

Well, let's go back 10 years.
Reading specialized monthly press to know what is going on in the photography gear.
If I was interested in a new camera; I will be going to my local shop, asking advise with a pro, and maybe, buy it there.

And came the large shop / electronic mall with more choice and lower prices.
I keep doing the same, but instead of buying from this talented retailer; I will go for cheaper at the local mall. The retailer is there for advice only, I'm choosing prices.

Now, internet killed the specialized press, all advices is now given by blogger and not journalists, I can in 2 hours got the fake feedback of 50 Youtubers which are only interested by traffic and not truce. (The R5 overheat is a blatant example, The extreme battery drain another one)

Amazing world?
Not even need to go to the mall; the camera is delivered to me for even cheaper!

So, look all the information we lost in this price gain!
Local shop closed down, Journalist out of work, Google remunerating per view and not for quality.
Yep, I got my camera for cheaper, but fake news are now all over.

I'm a bit sad, honestly.

Jonathan Smith's picture

I had someone contact me out of the blue a few days ago on Facebook Messenger saying they see me posting about & selling a lot of camera gear. They asked me to buy some off name shotgun mic and said they would pay me for the review. The mic was $100 and I don’t do/know a lot about video (I do want to learn) but this was something I don’t need or want. The entire situation seemed strange to me and I ignored them.

Michael Breitung's picture

I also got a few of those requests... First I thought they want to send me something to review. But as they started with: you buy on amazon and we then pay you the money for the purchase I was out.

The only reviews I've done till now where ones for items I either purchased myself or where I actively contacted the company in order to test something. And I usually only put reviews on for items I really use. All other I declined so far.

R S's picture

An increasing problem with Amazon is that it has become a marketplace of knock-offs and real nasty, cheap, low quality control junk. Search for any electronic item, and you are bombarded with page after page of dodgy sounding low grade tat and have to really search to find a genuine item and then have to be careful who you are buying from.

Mike Heikkila's picture

There is someone in a Facebook group I’m in that does this but is completely legit, usually godox related products, they just post in the group if anyone is interested in reviewing something, it was an led light I was interested in, they asked me to buy it and would PayPal me the money back after so I could leave the review, isn’t that the point? Don’t think you can leave reviews on stuff you haven’t bought. They PayPal the money back to me the next day and I didn’t even get to photograph and review the light until a month later. Good thing it was actually great product and not rubbish. Whole reason I risked it in the first place, I would have just returned the light if they didn’t send the money back. The only way a lot of amazon listings will even sell or pick up traction is if they start getting reviews, I personally wouldn’t buy anything in there unless it had reviews. That’s my experience!

Gangadhar Vaidya's picture

Yes, that's the reason I always ignore 5 star reviews. Only look at bad reviews.

Also if there are very few reviews I ignore the product completely. That normally means someone created a new product just to get around bad reviews.

I know that makes me a too much of a critique. But this is going on for a while so we need to adapt.

Funny thing is there are 100s courses to sell something not a single course helping people buy anything 🧐

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I usually sort the reviews in Most Recent order to get a feel of the trend. If it feels overwhelmingly positive, they're probably fake in my mind. IMO, people are most likely to complain than compliment about a product, so when I see a bunch of positive reviews, would look fishy to me.

Scott Valentine's picture

I accepted one of these to see if it was legit, knowing that I could send the product back to Amazon. However, I only took an offer from a maker I already knew and a product I had already been considering (luck of the draw). That worked out well, and the dealer was legit. I used to get offers all the time from reputable vendors looking to get notice on Amazon, but that was several years ago when I was aggressively marketing myself, including having working relationships with some major companies, so it was to be expected.

The problem here is even if YOU aren't scammed, the process is being abused. Many times I've tried finding major name brands on Amazon with no luck, despite having bought the same product before (some grip gear). Even searching with the name brought up pages of non-name knock off products. I eventually had to go back through my orders to find the actual product, which was still being sold through Amazon but never made the search results.

And this is a serious issue, even if the seller's aren't taking advantage of you as the reviewer. They are burying the better quality stuff and major manufacturers. There is no way to tell Amazon if you really, really need the actual known product or if you'll settle for the fly-by-night 2nd and 3rd manufacturing leftovers. Sometimes it really matters, such as when you need a reliable product for business. Other times you can get away with the crap because it's easy enough to throw it away so long as you get one good use out of it.

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

I have had the same two Chinese marketing companies send me free stuff (photographic and otherwise) in exchange for honest reviews for a year or so.

Difference is, these companies both pay me for the item BEFORE I order it from Amazon, so they're assuming the risk rather than hoping I will assume it. Both companies just want honest reviews, and the vast majority of the stuff they've sent me has been quite good. The times when I have left bad reviews (or less than 5 stars), they just say, "thanks for the feedback" and give me another list of items to choose from.

Guess there's a difference between brands going through a legit marketing company to try and get their product out of the "no reviews, nobody will touch it" zone on Amazon, and companies trying to scam people or dishonestly buy 5-star reviews.

I have had brands want me to pay for the item with a promise of reimbursement "once your 5-star review is live." Won't touch those with a 10 foot pole, both because they're almost all scams and because buying 5 star reviews is unethical.