Feds: Amazon Staffers Took Bribes to Prop Up Sketchy Merchants, Products
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Sketchy merchants have been bribing Amazon employees and contractors to reinstate unsafe and counterfeit products on the e-commerce site and manipulate reviews, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
On Friday, federal officials announced indictments against six suspects who allegedly paid more than $100,000 to Amazon employees and contractors in commercial bribes.
“In exchange for bribes, and the promises of such bribes, the Amazon insiders baselessly and fraudulently conferred tens of millions of dollars of competitive benefits upon hundreds of 3P (third-party) seller accounts,” the indictment claims.
The merchants who paid the bribes were not named, but they sold products including consumer electronics, dietary supplements, and household goods.
Allegedly, the conspiracy has been going on since at least 2017. The six suspects served as consultants for the third-party merchants, and some also operated their own sellers accounts on Amazon. The bribes then went to at least 10 employees and contractors, who had the power to reinstate merchants and products previously suspended from the site due to safety and counterfeiting complaints, or because the product reviews had been manipulated.
The bribed staffers also gave up access to confidential information about how Amazon’s marketplace algorithms work, including the site’s search engine, product review rankings, and the “coveted ‘buy boxes’ that list default sellers on particular product listings," the indictment says.
“The ultimate victim from this criminal conduct is the buying public who get inferior or even dangerous goods that should have been removed from the marketplace,” said U.S. Attorney Brian Moran in today’s announcement.
The bribed staffers also helped the merchants undermine their competition on Amazon’s marketplace. This could involve suspending a rival merchant’s account, flooding their product listings with bad reviews, or even defacing the product listings with lewd and offensive content.
Five of the suspects are based in the U.S. and operated through groups such as “Amazon Sellers Group TG" and “Digital Checkmate” to offer their consulting services. One suspect, 30-year-old Hadis Nuhanovic of Georgia, also tweeted the below photo back in 2016, which is raising some eyebrows about the corruption.
@hadisNuhanovic We love you too, but it feels like there's something standing between us. Let's tear down that wall and build a fort!— Amazon (@amazon) April 12, 2016
The sixth suspect, 31-year-old Nishad Kunju, is a resident of India and used to work for Amazon running “seller-support” while accepting bribes. After his termination from the job in August 2018, Kunju then became an outside consultant who recruited and paid bribes to his former colleagues at the e-commerce company.
The indictments may shake some trust in Amazon's protections against fraud and abuse. But in a statement, the e-commerce company said: "Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior by sellers or employees, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activity."
It's unclear if the employees or contractors have been fired. But the e-commerce giant said it did work with federal investigators in uncovering the alleged crimes. “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," the company added.