Mike and Kelly Gallivan will never forget the day a random package suddenly landed on their doorstep last October.
While they were mystified by the 4-inch fan that plugs into a computer USB port and combination phone charger and hand warmer, the Gallivans assumed there must have been a mistake.
Since that day, the Gallivans have been regularly receiving packages every week or two—Amazon packages they never ordered.
At first, Mike and Kelly thought the random packages were funny, but the constant deliveries have since become nothing but a nuisance.
Despite calling Amazon and explaining the situation, the Gallivans say the company has done nothing to stop the packages, nor have they given the couple any information about the buyer.
Every package has been purchased with a gift card, which means Amazon has not been able to pinpoint the buyer’s address or identity.
When Amazon said they could do no more, the Gallivans took their bizarre story to Sean P. Murphy, a writer at The Boston Globe.
According to Murphy, experts agree that Mike and Kelly are likely the unwitting accomplices in an Amazon scam.
James Thomson and Chris McCabe, who used to work for Amazon, say this is likely what’s going on: A seller is trying to manipulate their product’s ratings by setting up a phony email address for the sole purpose of creating an Amazon account. The sneaky seller then purchases their own items on a gift card—all to stay anonymous—before having the products sent to a stranger’s house. Once the items are delivered, the whole transaction becomes a “verified purchase,” which allows the buyer to review the products they pretended to receive. This means a seller can give their own products rave reviews, essentially tricking others into thinking the items are better than they are.
“If the person doing the ordering controls the e-mail of the person receiving the product, he can write a five-star review of his own product,” said Thomson.
While the whole ordeal didn’t seem like a big deal at first, the Gallivans want nothing more than for the packages to stop.
We’re just plain, ordinary people,” said Kelly, 68. “We don’t want any part of this. But the packages just keep coming.”
Though it doesn’t seem like Amazon is doing much to investigate, Thomson says looking into this problem should be a top priority for the company.
“Amazon’s No. 1 consideration is what’s best for the customer,” he said. “And customers need to know the reviews they read on Amazon are not fraudulent.”
Brian Kilcourse, who heads a California research firm specializing in the behavior of various retailers, agrees that even one verified review on an Amazon product can sway a potential buyer.
“When you’ve got a choice of three or four brands of, say, USB connectors, and they all look the same and they all cost the same, you click on the one with the best reviews,” he said. “You hardly think about it. You just do it.”
Murphy has since reached out to Amazon, providing a two-page memo with Mike and Kelly’s story, but even he hasn’t received much of a concrete response.
“We are investigating inquiries from consumers who have received unsolicited packages as this would violate our policies,” Amazon initially said in a statement that was sent to Murphy. “We remove sellers in violation of our policies, withhold payments, and work with law enforcement to take appropriate action.”
“Amazon has multiple checks in place to monitor customer accounts and transactions, and have systems designed to identify and prevent suspicious activities,” the company added later.
“As bad actors get smarter, so do we,” Amazon continued in the second statement. “Amazon is constantly innovating to protect the customer experience.”
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