back to article Another way to look at Amazon's counterfeit-busting Project Zero: Making merchants cough up protection money

Amazon is rolling out Project Zero, a system the online souk is touting to deal with the problem of counterfeit goods in its storefront. The initiative, announced on Thursday, is supposed to help merchants police products sold through Amazon, and stop the sale of any faked clones of their gear. It may also end up helping …

  1. Donn Bly

    Buyer Beware

    Another reason Amazon has so many counterfeits is that they have removed the functionality for a user to report a bogus seller.

    There used to be a way to report a listing - I had used it before - but I discovered last week when I noticed something seriously amiss in the pictures on a sellers account -- improper use of trademarks, obviously bogus stamps, etc. -- that there there was no way to report it unless I had a sellers account. It told me by buyer's account wasn't enabled to make such reports.

    So, I left a one star review complete with photo's showing the vendor's photos side by side with real items and arrows pointing out the differences. Two days later that I got a notice from Amazon that my review was being rejected, but the seller has changed their product images to no longer show bogus product and their reviews are all 5 stars.

    At least I can still ship bogus product back to them free of charge.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Buyer Beware

      Forget counterfeiting, any way to order product *other* than by list of "shade of blue 00001 500w psu, shade of blue 00002 500w psu, shade of blue 00003 500w psu" would be helpful. Anything that stops 1000s of the same item getting put up for sale would help actually find a product, let alone report it if a scam, and if they put back such a button.

    2. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Buyer Beware

      I have reported a group of sellers with fake goods multiple times; Amazon have not removed a single item, but since I obviously am interested in the product, they send me an "items of interest" list containing them every few weeks.

      I also closed our Amazon store, after a tat merchant started using our product pictures as his own, and selling smaller, inferior quality copies via "Fullfilled by Amazon" !!!

      (Silk v polyester).

      There are fewer fakes on Ali Express than there are on Ebay or Amazon; and that has been true for 4-5 years.

    3. paulf Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Buyer Beware

      Sorry for being a touch OT but your comment "there was no way to report it unless I had a sellers account." reminds me of my major bugbear with Amazon: Sellers paying to get negative reviews removed.

      I ordered an item (car mount for a smartphone - about £10) and when it arrived it was a completely different design to the photos, although it worked just fine. I left a seller review noting this and the next day got a phone call from them offering me a 50% refund if I removed the review. I said I'd think about it (it didn't take long to conclude, "no") to get them off the phone realising they also had my home address. They were only able to call me because Amazon demands a phone number (thankfully my burner phone) which they share with the seller as part of the fulfilment address.

      When I tried to report this I got standard replies offering help with a seller's account, completely missing the point. When I went to the seller's account help centre to try and report it there I was told I didn't have a seller's account and offering help to open one.

      I've had various subsequent contacts from negative seller reviews. Some offer to rectify the problem and suggest I remove the review but sort out the problem anyway. Others offer me a bribe some kind of refund if I remove the review so this must be rife while Amazon turns a blind eye to it.

    4. tekHedd

      Re: Buyer Beware

      That's how Amazon deals with problems like this and fake reviews: they bury their head in the sand by deleting anything that messes with their denial (your reviews, the downvote button), and try to find a way to charge you for it.

      1. muhfugen

        Re: Buyer Beware

        Amazon really doesnt care about customer feedback. I've posted negative reviews because products I purchased came with cards saying the seller would give you free stuff if you left a positive review, and included a picture of the card in my review. The review was flagged and required approval from Amazon staff once I clicked the submit button and they denied me the ability to post it. So they're basically allowing vendors to bribe people for positive reviews, and denying the ability for customers to alert other people of these practices.

    5. SoloSK71

      Re: Buyer Beware

      and ad to this that merchants can sell shite (such as fake plant seeds, ex. offering bromeliad seeds that sprout as common Chinese herbs or even weeds) or re-sell legitimate products but overprice them by 300% or more and people still buy them because they don't know how Amazon merchants can game the system

    6. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: There used to be a way to report a listing

      And the way the hysterical Amazon community throw around the term "counterfeit" I for one am not surprised.

      Your merch arrived in "hassle-free" packaging (because you didn't change the option when you bought)? "COUNTERFEIT!"

      Your merch doesn't behave the exact way you thought it would (even though the rebus destructions tell you that the way it does behave is in fact correct)? "COUNTERFEIT!"

      And let's not forget those who have nothing better to do all day than trawl through the more witless reviews so they can add a "COUNTERFEIT!" comment, even when it is plain that the reviewer is dumber than a bag of hammers and put the batteries in the wrong way round.

      And that's before we get into those people who think they can buy a state-of-the-art electronic device at a fraction of what all the big names are asking for "the same thing", and not get a knock-off. "I bought a 5 terabyte USB 3 stick ($10 from Happy Dragon) and it caught fire when I plugged it into my laptop even though I followed the instructions exactly. I think I might have got a counterfeit."

      The counterfeiting problem is real (encountered examples of it myself) and Azathoth knows that Amazon make reporting problems traceable to bad actors (or their own incompetent IT staff) damn near impossible. But I can understand why they aren't especially responsive to cries of "COUNTERFEIT!" from the masses any more.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There used to be a way to report a listing

        What? You prove that Amazon is taking cash from buyers and sellers and offering no protection or arbitration... and so blame the customers? I think you need to reevaluate your business if you think Amazon facilitating false claims against your business is the fault if the above posters flagging legitimate false products. (You gave the example of the fake usb sticks... then somehow defended the practice? Hypocritical much?)

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: There used to be a way to report a listing

          I'm not blaming anyone. I left that to the others here.

          What I *wrote* was that I could understand the reluctance of Amazon to put too much weight behind unsubstantiated claims of counterfeiting.

          As for arbitration, Amazon prime customers (which includes me) get free returns, a service I've made infrequent but repeated use of.

          If someone buys cheap from a third party vendor who doesn't offer a return policy, then that is their own affair.

          I do say that expecting to pay bottom dollar for top shelf is dumb. That's not a matter of blame, but intelligence.

  2. Joe W

    Disruptive...

    "Honestly, guv, I'm not a seller / content provider / cab company / employer /..."

    Yeah, right.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Disruptive...

      I'm told that if you use Fulfillment By Amazon, your "stock" is pooled with other suppliers of the same thing. Amazon decide which box they pick from the shelf to fulfill your order. Can you pin down anyone as the seller in the event that the box you receive is a fake?

      1. brotherelf

        Re: Disruptive...

        This. In particular, this includes Amazon's own sales, so even if you think "I don't trust random warehouse dealer to send me a proper legit mobile phone charger", you might still get the knock-off.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Disruptive...

        This is the big problem with Amazon, and what I came to post. For their warehouses (i.e. everything fulfilled by them including third partie sellers - they pool all delivered goods, and then fulfill from that common pool. This is of course done to save money. The problem is that it only needs one supplier putting in fakes to utterly contaminate their supply chain.

        Having allowed this contamination of their own supply chain, they've then taken the usual Silicon Valley response which isn't to say, "let's increase our costs to fix this problem we've created" - but to say, "Hey! New revenue opportunities! Let's charge our own suppliers to fix the problem we created. And... Profit!"

        This isn't helped by so many companies taking the cheap option of manufacturing in China, and then wondering why the factories they use in a jurisdiction with no proper legal protections do an extra production run and sell those goods into the same supply chain and undercut them.

        1. Gi

          Re: Disruptive...

          Monetizing the age old practice of 'bait and switch' is pretty clever. Thinking outside the box... because they don't care what's inside the box.

        2. SoloSK71

          Re: Disruptive...

          ex. batteries, you never know if you are going to get legitimate ones or cheap knockoffs and when you call Amazon they don't actually change anything

      3. tekHedd

        Re: Disruptive...

        And never mind that "Fulfilled by Amazon", assuming you're not on Prime, generally takes 1-3 days longer to arrive than third party sellers, and you can't rate the seller, because obviously Amazon doesn't need to be rated, because they're perfect. All their profit margin apparently comes from including half the amount of air-bags required to adequately cushion the product.

        Really, they used to be pretty good, and we mocked them for excessive packaging, but now it's gone the other way, and not in a good way.

  3. LDS Silver badge

    Amazon does profit by counterfeits

    There's also a not so small part of buyers who aren't able to spot a counterfeit, and those who will buy knowingly a counterfeit because "it's cheaper". And counterfeit are not only made for cheap goods.

  4. Permidion
    Thumb Down

    That wont solve the invasion of cheap chinese copies of products that has been plagging all chinese webstore and are now invading amazon.

    The situation is so bad already it's pretty much impossible to find the original product inbetween all the bad copies...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not clear, however, how much money Amazon has made selling fakes, if any

    I bet amazon make huge money on fakes, by sheer volume of trades in fakes. Looking at sd cards and usb flash drives, it's practically impossible to detect which is fake, and which is not. Until you realize this "genuine" SanDisk usb 128GB stick overwrites your irreplaceable files with another batch, because it's like, 16Gb at best :)

    But the problem is twofold, it's not only Amazon and ebay that don't give a flying monkey about fakes (as long as profits exceed cost of returns and litigation), brands which don't care either. I tried to buy a replacement battery for a few year's old laptop. The most reliable vendor I chose, and I did try really hard, sold me a fake (not a no-brand replacement). I got my money back, but neither ebay nor original brand has a way to report fakes (and despite negative reviews, the seller keeps selling exactly the same battery, probably because people don't actually read negative reviews BEFORE buying :).

    Apparently, there's no way to actually test if a flash stick is genuine, because fakers easily re-programm the controller, and sometimes show genuine sense of humour, selling 2Tb micro-sd cards. That said, I've recently spoken to a highly intelligent person, who happily admitted he'd bought such a card "knowing something's not right about such capacity". Yet, he was happy enough to waste about 8 quid, "to see what it's like" (I told him what it will be like, but still, he didn't mind!)

    And then, having (thought) I educated my better half about the "value" of amazon reviews - she buys some shitty toy for our kids which turns out to be, well, shitty. Because it had so many good reviews... Sure, I sent it back, we got the (shitty) money back, but if they flog 100 boxes like that, and only a few people bother to return it, business is booming, brother!

    So, essentially, it's a downward spiral, when all sides of a transaction know it's fake, or probably fake, or maybe-fake, vendor, platform and buyer, yet knowingly engage in this sale.

  6. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Sadly, like Google, Amazon are getting more crap

    (or is it "crapper" ?)

    Rather than all this noise (which I doubt will achieve much) Amazon could have made their site a fucktonne more useful (and therefore get more sales) if they got the companies supplying them to properly apply tags and attributes to their stock.

    An example from yesterday .... if I am looking for a 4TB external USB drive, that's what I want the search results to show. Not a host of "1TB,2TB,3TB,4TB,8TB caddies" for £10 each. As a PP has noted I can chose the fucking colour of the thing, but not the size ? Or rather, checking the size drags in the fluff above. Which seems to bypass the "price" filter so you are forced to see it.

    Looking for phones also ... no, I wanted a Samsung G9, not 1,000 cases for one.

    All the past 2 decades have done is exponentially increase the noise being stored in the world, while arithmetically improving search technology.

    Amazon need to up their game. I've been generally impressed by their incremental improvements, but they appear to have forgotten where they came from.

    (Have they added a feature to add to a wishlist from a search listing yet ? I only suggested it 10 years ago.)

    1. hoola

      Re: Sadly, like Google, Amazon are getting more crap

      Add to that all the defunct listings for items that appear genuine but are unavailable just to get you into the website. IT is getting more difficult to search for something and not have the first page or more filled with links to items that are discontinued, out of stock or have a price that does not match what the initial search result states.

      If these were high street shops consumer protection would be on their backs to fix it. Because this is online it is impossible to do anything as the actual companies specialise in obscurity to ensure that nothing can be reported.

  7. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    It's always going to cost something

    Surely you don't think that BSi or TuV approval costs the manufacturer nothing? If you make products covered by standards, selling them legally is an expensive process. A former Italian colleague used to summarise it by saying "BSi, TuV, IMQ, all Mafias" (But he also used to say that there were only three things wrong with Southern Italy, "fascisti, cattolici e mafiosi", and in reality he did recognise that someone has to pay to ensure safe products end up on the market, and that is ultimately the customer.)

  8. Craig 2

    " Amazon's takedown procedure is less effective than eBay's"

    How can it be less effective than eBay's COMPLETELY USELESS takedown procedure.

    Sure, it's easy to report but they usually get ignored. As someone who has repeatedly flagged items (with evidence) they never get taken down in a meaningful way. Even if a listing gets removed, it just gets relisted with minor changes.

  9. Snarf Junky

    "We hold bad actors accountable for returns, refunds, claims and other issues related to the sale of counterfeit goods."

    Hayden Christensen could be in for some big bills then.

  10. Starace
    Flame

    They can't even control the stock the sell themselves

    As has been noted, due to stock mixing they can't even guarantee stuff the ship themselves is actually real.

    This is either a protection racket or a way of brands locking out the grey market. Either way I doubt the buyer will see any improvement from the current mess.

  11. Keith Langmead

    "Totally legitimate" copies of MS Office

    My favourite on Amazon is the obviously fake copies of MS Office that are available. Aside from the unrealistically low prices, the fact that in many cases they're selling Professional Plus edition is a bit of a tip off. Pro Plus isn't available as a retail product, so cannot possibly be legitimate, yet somehow simply blocking any entries for it on Amazon is apparently beyond them.

    Had many customers fall for it though, insisting they'll supply their own copy of Office only for us to inform them that 1) it isn't legit, and 2) we're not touching it.

  12. Milton Silver badge

    Lack of accountability and sanction

    It would be onerous and expensive for outfits like ebay and Amazon to have to take responsibility and suffer fines for selling counterfeit goods. Their prices would have to rise. Or profits would fall.

    It would be expensive for Amazon to have to pay their warehouse and delivery folks a decent wage. Their prices would have to rise. Or profits would fall.

    It would be a burden for Amazon to have to pay proper taxes in the countries they sell from, through, and to. Their prices would have to rise. Or profits would fall.

    It would cost Amazon more if they were to pay a fair royalty to owners of copyrighted stuff sold on their site. There prices would have to rise. Or profits would fall.

    Perhaps Amazon doesn't in any way deserve to take advantage of the sloppiness of a badly regulated inernet?

    Perhaps Amazon should have to compete on a more level playing field with other retailers, including B&M?

    Perhaps it would not be a bad thing if employees were paid decently, so that they didn't have to rely upon social welfare, which itself would benefit from extra taxes, and other retailers had a fairer chance to compete, and authors and songwriters and singers too were properly rewarded for thier work without their earnings being parasitised?

    Perhaps the truth is that governments are the villains here, for having utterly, often corruptly failed to properly regulate and sanction internet giants, from Amazon to Facebook to Google?

    The problems of social media and predatory Amazons and eBays are all solvable: you just need to elect people to do it. (Hint: not the solid majority of lazy, dumb, greedy crap currently infesting Westminster while f**king up every single thing they touch ...)

  13. M.V. Lipvig

    Fakes are why

    I never order anything on Amazon anymore. Too many times I've ordered an item which stated it was made in a specific nation just to receive some obvious cheap Chinese knockoff. It's just not worth the hassle. Perhaps this will be a good thing, but seeing as Amazon is already on my list of suppliers to not trust.

  14. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Full circle

    Remember people saying they'd shop in a store then buy on Amazon? It's the opposite now. I browse Amazon's catalog then buy the product from a physical store or the manufacturer's website. Sometimes it costs a tiny bit more but don't underestimate the value of good service, especially when buying multiple components that need to work together.

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