A Competitor Destroyed My Amazon Selling Account. It Could Happen to Anyone.

An agency hired by my competitors targeted my business with false claims and malicious reviews to bring me down. They almost succeeded.

This post is by Mike Young, an online seller on Amazon and eBay based in London, England. Mike has a background in finance and IT and has investigated financial wrongdoing within the banking industry.

Everyone knows that competition on Amazon is fierce. But I didn’t realize just how fierce until my business lost 50% of its sales in one month, thanks to the black hat tactics of an “online marketing expert” hired by a competitor.

What started with a false claim of trademark infringement turned into policy warnings, a stream of fake negative reviews, and my suspension from selling on Amazon.

In this post, I’ll explain how my business was targeted, what tactics were used, and how I worked out who was behind the attacks.

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My business

I started selling on marketplaces back in 2014 because my wife wanted to start an online business. We began with eBay, but after a few months we decided to move onto Amazon because it was easier and cheaper to fulfill goods using FBA, than it was doing our own fulfillment on eBay.

We are a family business and sell a range of products, such as branded toys, electronic accessories and seasonal items, as well as our own private label sports goods. At our peak we reached six digits of turnover and were planning to expand internationally in 2018. That was until our Amazon seller account was targeted by an “online marketing” agency, determined to bring my business down.

First trademark infringement claim

The attacks started on 31st October, when we were notified by Amazon that another seller had submitted a claim to them, saying one of the products we were selling infringed their trademark. When I went to look at the listing, I noticed that it was incorrect, as the brand name was set as the seller’s own business name instead of the manufacturer.

Initially, I thought that the company had simply made a mistake, and so I emailed them, asking them to withdraw the claim. After getting no response, I decided to call them but, again, I was met with silence.

At this point, I simply wasn’t getting anywhere, so I decided to escalate the case to the managing director’s office at Amazon UK. Soon after, Seller Performance contacted me to say that my listing had been reinstated and I could now sell the product again.

This wasn’t the end of the matter though, as despite being reinstated, Amazon couldn’t remove the black mark on my metrics, because the infringement claim itself hadn’t been withdrawn.

Naturally, this concerned me because I knew it was going to have a negative effect on my performance metrics, and could affect my sales. So, I made another attempt to get in touch with the company who had made the claim and also sent a counter-notice to them through my lawyer, to try and get them to withdraw it.

Overall, I thought this was all just a genuine mistake.

Policy warnings

Two weeks later, on 14th November, we were notified by Amazon about supposedly breaching another trademark. This was a different product, with three variations, and we received policy warnings for counterfeit or trademark infringements against each one of them.

The really strange thing about these claims, was that they were made by a company that exclusively sells home and kitchen products. Let’s call them Acme Kitchen Products. Yet, the product in question was a small, spiky, rubber ball that flashes when you bounce it.

It was a generic, unbranded product, but the Amazon listings did show Acme Kitchen Products as the manufacturer. That was strange. I did some investigating and I couldn’t find the item in Acme’s product range or any evidence that it was trademarked by them.

Now, every time that I get a policy warning I go and fight it. Other sellers might think it’s not worth the trouble, but if something’s not correct, then I think it needs to be put right. When I tried to make contact with the claimant though, I realized that although the notice was submitted on Acme’s behalf, it was actually made by an agent who was acting for them.

I followed procedure, and made contact with both the agency and the company, explaining that if the claim wasn’t withdrawn, we’d be sending a counter-notice. Acme basically told me they had no idea what I was talking about and that it had nothing to do with them.

They continued on this line, even after I sent counter-notices, so once again I was forced to escalate matters to the managing director’s office at Amazon UK. I then heard from a director of Acme, who apologized and explained that they were in Brand Registry and made the claim in error.

Was it really in error? I don’t believe it was. I thought the first notice I received was an honest mistake, but this looked like a deliberate attempt to damage my Amazon account, and I was getting concerned.

Listing manipulation

After some investigation, I found many other listings on Amazon where the same company – Acme Kitchen Products – had put their name as the manufacturer. These were also completely unrelated products that Acme didn’t make or sell. For example, they were listed (incorrectly) as the manufacturer for the best selling products in five different toy categories.

Around this time, I was also looking into the agent that Acme had used to submit the intellectual property infringement claims. I found that they were not a firm of lawyers, as you might expect, but actually an “internet marketing” agency. Submitting trademark and copyright infringement claims is a strange type of internet marketing, if you ask me.

So, why were they changing the manufacturer on Amazon product listings? I researched it further and put more of the pieces together. It seemed like the same agency were systematically submitting changes to unrelated listings, to drive traffic to Acme’s products. The product listings they were changing were bestsellers, so they knew the traffic would be high, and they could use the manufacturer link to divert traffic from popular products, which had nothing to do with them, to their own pages.

I tried to tell Amazon about this, but they weren’t really interested and told me that I’d already been reinstated and didn’t need to worry about it.

Negative feedback begins

I was successful in getting all the notices of infringement overturned, and could continue selling the affected products. Black marks remained on my account, because the submitters were refusing to withdraw their claims, which was frustrating but didn’t have a big impact on sales. But, only a couple of weeks later, a new kind of dirty tricks campaign began.

On November 30th, I started getting negative feedback on my selling account. From experience, I could tell there was something malicious going on. For a start, customers normally email us when they have an issue rather than just leaving feedback out of the blue. The second factor that rang alarm bells was that the two pieces of feedback had been left within just five minutes of each other, and at a strange time of day – 5:40 and 5:45 in the morning.

We have always regularly checked our feedback and every time we get negative reviews we look into it, to try and find out what the problem was. This way, if it turns out that we did nothing wrong, or that the buyer simply didn’t understand how to use Amazon, we can appeal and ask for it to be removed.

This time was no different, so we followed our normal process and started investigating the feedback.

The first order

We started reviewing the first order that the feedback related to, and our suspicions were raised further by the telephone number the buyer had entered. It was obviously invalid, along the lines of “123123123”. Customers normally enter a genuine phone number to help ensure the courier can deliver their order, so a fake number is unusual.

I was, however, able to find a working phone number for the recipient, using a directory inquiry service. The person who ordered this particular item had it delivered to a different name and address, as you would for a gift. When I eventually spoke to the recipient, they told me that they had the item, but they had never ordered it, didn’t know the person who had, and were sorry that they hadn’t told anyone or returned the item.

This person had received several items they had not ordered, but didn’t know what to do about it, and were concerned they would be accused of stealing if they did tell someone. The review claiming to be from them had read: “Received damaged item, change it asap”, so I asked them what condition the item was in when they received it. They said it was perfect.

Clearly, the person who ordered this item had no connection with the person who received it. It was a “ghost order” made for the sole purpose of leaving fake negative feedback, and the recipient’s identity had been used repeatedly to attack different sellers.

The second order

I now strongly suspected that I was being deliberately targeted. I looked into the second negative review, which had read: “How can I rate as no item delivered yet!”.

Everything pointed in the direction of this review being malicious. It had a similar fake phone number, and Royal Mail’s new 2D barcode tracking said that the package had actually been delivered successfully.

Some more research uncovered that the named recipient used to live at the delivery address, but had moved house years ago. So the attacker wasn’t only using ghost orders, sent to people with no connection to them, they were also ordering products to people’s old addresses and then claiming the items never arrived.

It would be hard to get a working phone number with only the name of a former occupant, so I couldn’t take this one any further.

Where was this coming from?

I wanted to know who was behind this negative feedback. I guessed that the “online marketing” agency who submitted the false infringement claims could have something to do with it. Perhaps feedback manipulation was another service on their list of dirty tricks?

I started to look into them, and through company registration and trademark records I discovered that they actually sold on Amazon themselves – the same company details were on an active Amazon seller account. That was a surprise, but in itself didn’t prove they were connected to the negative feedback.

But when I looked at the feedback they had received, there was positive feedback from the same two buyers who had left me negative feedback.

It was pretty clear now that the same agency was behind:

  1. False claims of intellectual property infringement against me
  2. Orders placed using fake identities so they could give me negative feedback
  3. Fake positive feedback submitted for their own selling account

20 bad orders in one day?

By now I was really upset. I took it personally that I was being targeted, and this wasn’t helped by two more malicious feedback comments being received on 4th and 5th December.

I started looking into these four orders, and noticed that all of them had originally been placed on the same day – 22nd November.

When I went through my sales for that day, I found a total of 20 suspicious orders, all with the same characteristics.

The first, as I mentioned before, is an invalid phone number along the lines of “111222111”. The second was the type of products they were buying. They were always cheap products, never worth more than £4.00, and they were usually products that had been popular, but weren’t selling well anymore.

The buying pattern also stood out, as these orders were made quite early in the morning and within a few minutes of each other. For example, the first order would be made at 8:10 and followed by orders at 8:15 and 8:20. All the suspicious orders were made in batches close together like this.

To top it off, most of the named recipients on these orders had also left positive feedback for the Amazon seller account connected to the agency.

Armed with this evidence, I emailed the managing director’s office at Amazon UK to explain my situation and the fact that I was clearly being targeted. I even told them that based on the characteristics that all the orders shared, I could predict which one would give rise to negative feedback next (and I was correct!).

While emails went back and forth between Amazon and myself, the negative feedback was beginning to push my metrics down, and I was no longer winning the Boy Box. In fact, my sales had fallen almost 50% as a result. So, with no end in sight, I ramped up my emails to Amazon and, I will admit, I lost my temper with them.

Suspension

On 12th December, when I tried to access my seller account, I found that I had been suspended. When the notification email came through later that evening, it said I had been suspended for two reasons: selling inauthentic products and for violating Amazon’s code of conduct.

I didn’t communicate professionally in all of my emails to Amazon, and I can see that does violate the code of conduct, but I think it was understandable given the situation. However, I do regret it.

What I can say categorically is that I have never sold a fake product. All the infringement notices I received were overturned, and I sent invoices to prove the authenticity of our products. Amazon accepted all of those.

We weren’t successful, however, in getting all the negative feedback removed. Having researched the orders, the pattern of the attack was very clear, but Amazon did not accept my evidence.

Being suspended has had a considerable impact on the business, and affected our cash flow severely. We are no longer able to sell on Amazon, and had to remove our stock from FBA at a cost of £5000. Some of that stock was then lost or damaged in transit. With no sales coming in, we were also asked to repay our Amazon Loan of £9000 in full.

We appointed an Amazon consultant to help us get reinstated, but it has been almost two months since we were suspended, and have had no success so far. To add insult to injury, negative feedback is still coming in from those twenty malicious orders placed on 22nd November.

In Closing

Despite this saga, I’m not angry with Amazon. I don’t see it as their fault. My anger is directed at the “online marketing agency” that targeted my account and tried to ruin my business. After all, it wasn’t Amazon that indulged in black practices – it was the agency.

In one way, we are lucky. We also sell on eBay, and have started selling our private label product direct to retailers. Without these sides to our business, I’m certain that we would have gone bankrupt.

Many sellers won’t be so fortunate. If these immoral characters can have such a big impact on my business, despite a thorough investigation, what impact are they having on other sellers? Some businesses make most, or even all, of their sales through Amazon, and would not survive an attack like the one I experienced.

I’m certain that there are sellers being taken down this way on a daily basis. Some won’t ever realize just how ruthlessly they were being targeted. Their businesses will go under, and their personal lives will suffer.

Business is hard even when it’s played fairly, we know that, but being forced out by dirty tricks is not part of the game, and we should not put up with it.

This post was by Mike Young with Alex Knight. Mike is an online seller on Amazon and eBay based in London, England.

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24 comments on “A Competitor Destroyed My Amazon Selling Account. It Could Happen to Anyone.

  1. Great work Mike, thank you so much for doing this. Its terrible how people can destroy years of hard work, so easily and in fairness to amazon its hard to know how to deal with it.
    I wonder if this is W and H enterprises I think they did something similar to me, for me my online selling accounts were just a side business and I could not afford the time to pursue the case, I did find the name Wali Afzal in companies house, is this the same person Mike?
    There needs to be a new law to target these evil people, mis-selling on amazon, mis-representing there goods and when they don’t get there own way they try to bring down a business. I hope the police do something against the person or business that did this to you and you get compensation. I urge everyone to check there negative feedback, we might be talking about the same person, or maybe they use different names.

  2. Hi Mike

    This is terrible. So sorry to hear about your plight.

    I hope you manage to get your Amazon suspension lifted and negative feedback removed.

    Hopefully, someone can take action against the agency and company behind the false claims.

    All the best for the future.

  3. I have experienced this sort of thing on Amazon, too. In fact, a product name was even stolen and that product remains a prime target. Each time we have a product rise, someone systematically comes and takes it down in one way or another. This started for us around 2013 and we have walked fine lines to stick around. It’s amazing we can still launch products that do well enough to be deemed “a threat”, thus targeted. I wonder what our business would be like without the ugliness.

    I’m very sorry this happened to you and yes, thank God for eBay!

    1. I was suspended on December 2, 2017 For Inauthentic claims on products from Walmart and Big Lots. I was a new Seller and this was depressing. I’m looking to sell on Facebook marketplace, EBay and Mercari.

  4. Long wait for something like that to come, i have been targeted by my competitors for years , but never had guts and new how to tackle the problem.
    At the beginning strugled badly to understand that there were anything wrong with my services and products. Only after few months i realised that someone was leaving negative feedback on purpose by seeing events occurring repeatedly within the short time from each other.
    I suffered so badly so i was considerimg to close my account as sells went deep diving immediately. After many researches i came across that other an individual was acting alone or a company was behind of filthy tricks.
    I am so plesed that at last someone like you Mike can fight the dirty game players and hopefully stop something like that to happen to anyone who wants to make his or her living by spending a lot of effort and hard work for years ,to create a clean and fair business .
    I strongly believe they are same people who targeted me and i hope they get arrested and get what they deserve.

  5. I think Amazon is at fault by creating such and easy way to target genuine businesses. Amazon should have well proven reason to close and account not just some negative feedbacks and claim by evil people.

  6. Mike I am sorry to hear about this. It is hard to build a successful business and to see being destroyed by other people for no just reason is heartbreaking

  7. Amazon is about money, people being treated like this has no effect on their bottom line – NONE! You must know that Amazon is a whore of a company, and we all deal with this whore. It is wrong to say Amazon is not culpable is just absurd. Vicious people not being questioned or removed by Amazon, as hard-working people just try to take care of business?

  8. You might not blame Amazon but I do, absolutely.

    EXACTLY the same thing happened to me with the fake goods/feedback scenario. After several years on eBay I also switched to Amazon after eBay scrapped “Ending Soonest” as the default view for buyers and replaced with “Best Match”, which ruined our business. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now, although I have managed to get a small business back up and running on eBay. But it’s a struggle now. But I digress.

    I built up a six figure turnover too, in fact from almost nothing I was approaching a quarter of a million turnover in just under 18 months. Then it started. first of all a couple of negative feedbacks. Then an A-z claim stating the goods were counterfeit. Then another. Then another. Within a few weeks I was trying to fight off half a dozen or more negatives a day, at least a couple of A-z claims and Item Not Received claims.

    Exact same pattern, items were being returned by Royal Mail with “Not at this address” labels and yet the “buyers” were sending in fake item A-z claims for items they had not received. I later found out they were even sending in photos of completely different items from the ones I was sending. Only after I invited Amazon to open a few of my items at random – or they could open the lot if they wanted to – did they accept that the photos of the item were not photos of items I (or rather they, via FBA,) was sending out.

    This went on for a few months, with a constant battle with Amazon’s foreign based staff trying to get them to understand these were false feedbacks and claims. It was affecting sales, it was extremely stressful – my wife will say I’ve never actually recovered, I’m a permanent nervous wreck now every time anything happens on eBay and, well to cut a long story short – I have written about it on this forum before – Amazon suspended me indefinitely.

    I never found out who was doing it and in the end a manager admitted to me “off the record” that the reason they got rid of me was it was taking two members of staff a lot of time to maintain my account and continue investigating these issues.

    Frankly I’m not convinced they bothered to investigate anything. There were clues – the perpetrators were almost certainly Asian judging by the names they were using, and there was often a “Z” in the name, almost as if they were gloating, wanting me to know it was them again.

    Now I’m not sure what percentage of people in the UK have a Z in their name but I’m guessing it’s a pretty small number. So why Amazon couldn’t see this blatantly obvious connection is beyond me. They talk about sophisticated fraud detection programs, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of it.

    Amazon also charged me per-item to get my stock back, I was luckier in that it “only” cost me around £1200 but these were also only small items, all of which went into half a dozen boxes and must have cost Amazon a maximum of around £30 to return to me. They also “lost” around 20% of my goods.

    I also had a battle to get my final payment but got it eventually, but I know of many stories where people who have been suspended have lost their final payments.

    Why do I blame Amazon? Because this sort of thing obviously goes on a lot more than we know, and they are doing little or nothing to prevent it. This is a company who are “stealing” seller’s final payments, and in my opinion their stock as well, unless there is some mysterious black hole somewhere swallowing it all.

    This is one of the most successful companies in the world run by the world’s richest man who, if you look into his history, doesn’t give a damn about anybody else as long as he is making money. He’s hiring staff at extremely cheap rates who simply are not able to cope with these things and when serious issues like this come up it’s somewhere between excruciatingly difficult and impossible to get the help you need.

    These people are committing a criminal offence and Amazon are aiding and abetting it. I know, ebay are not much better but it is easier to get at least some sort of support, and they do seem a little more aware of certain issues even if they’re not too clever at dealing with them.

    But this should not be allowed to happen. Amazon should be involving the police and doing more themselves. Financially, they have the resources. But sadly this is the world we live in now, it’s every man for himself and if you’re a victim it’s just your bad luck. Don’t expect any help from Amazon, eBay or the police because nobody is interested.

    The trouble is by turning a blind eye to it, the problem will only get worse as more and more people learn how to exploit the competition in this way. If we’re not careful we will end up with a society as corrupt as some of the Eastern countries.

  9. Oh, one other thing. If you’re doing well on Amazon and publishing stories about it on here or anywhere else you’re a bloody fool, because you’re simply presenting yourself as a target.

    If you’re doing well in ANY business keep it to yourself. The world’s most successful businessmen didn’t get where they are by telling the world how they are doing it.

  10. I would take as positive opptunitity to start business for ecommerce seller protection. I would definitely pay yearly fee for it!

    1. It’s a nice idea in theory but I fail to see how it would work. At the very least you would need Amazon’s cooperation because you would need the information they held on the competitors, such as registration names and addresses. And if such an idea became viable then Amazon would simply steal it for themselves anyway.

      1. I thinking of lawyer services for all marketplaces eBay, Amazon, esty. Most sellers are put off by the cost of a lawyer.

        If it was annual fee services and saves sellers time and effort of dealing with these issues.

        From experience, most competitors or fraud buyer repeat the behaviour many times with different sellers.

        I like what eBay does. They notice the buyer behaviour change the competitors feedback from negative to always being a positive default. eBay is far better than Amazon dealing with these issues.

        1. I think that is the answer is Amazon to catch up with the eBay system.

          If a buyer is not leaving natural buyer behaviour.
          eBay update all the feedback to positive or delete it.

          Also, eBay features block buyers list.
          Add username and block them from buying again.

          Also, you can set buyer cannot buy again in X amount of days.

  11. So very sorry to read about the experiences related here. I also feel Amazon shares much of the blame. The evidence submitted seems conclusive that the “Acme” company was targeting other companies in a clear violation of Amazon’s TOS, but rather than enforcing their own TOS, Amazon chose to suspend the company that was targeted.

    When I have more complex issues, I try to escalate it to Western customer service, simply because the overseas reps often do not have the training or authority to actually solve the problem. The fact that you never deal with the same rep twice also destroys any incentive for a given rep to follow through conclusively. I try not to write angry snippy letters for this reason: these people are simply doing what they are told to do. If they even had the authority or continuity to help with some problems, it would probably result in a negative performance review for them, because they would be breaking the rules and perhaps spending too much time.
    This is a fact of modern corporate life: it’s the same with UPS and FEDEX, with the airlines and basically with all corporate support platforms. It’s designed to disempower and dehumanize, and to save the company money while doing so. Welcome to the 21st century.

    Hope Amazon wakes up to the cheaters in their midst. Good luck with the Ebay side of your business.

    1. Amazon simply don’t care. It’s not their problem. They are making unreal amounts of money so even anybody with a couple of million turnover becomes insignificant.

      They also often use their platform to prevent a seller from selling certain goods that are doing particularly well by banning the seller from selling them, then selling the same goods themselves at a higher price.

  12. Just reading that article and seem that this is Premier Housewares (Scotland) LLP (in liquidation)and Mr Cheema that could be involved. This company is being investigated by the authorities in UK and Mr Cheema also seem to have different trademarks when we check the trademark registry.
    These big retailers will also take a big hit as Premier Housewares seem to be in major financial difficulties as well

  13. Premier Housewares is also present in Pakistan where this guy is originally from. Mr Mustunser Hayat Cheema is the trademark owner of Premier Housewares as per trademark registry in UK.
    Argos, John Lewis, Tesco and including Amazon all sell their products and what a mess as seem Premier Housewares Ltd will also collapse soon similar to Premier Housewares (Scotland) LLP
    What a total mess
    BTW well done for the article as this agency should be closed down by the authorities and the sellers that had used them all investigated as well

  14. hi there, I’m reasonably new to e-commerce, this is slightly off topic but still relevant to the thread….I’m not selling on Amazon, but have thought about it to expand into a different platform, however, the more research I do about them, their practices and how they run their ship, frankly beyond the sheer numbers of potential customers (I buy on amazon regularly- lets face it, the deals are there) given all the problems I’m reading about from sellers, I have a basic, very cut and dry question: why does anyone sell on there? From a sellers perspective, it really seems to me like they are more of a problem than they are worth.

  15. The agency/attackers had left another 5 malicious feedbacks again this week and they are from the list of amazon orders made on 22 November 2017. It is almost clear that the attackers are still active on the amazon marketplace and sellers have to be on guard.

  16. Just to give you all an update. The agency had whatapps me that all the amazon customers that left malicious negative feedbacks are employed by his company. Also the same amazon customers have also left over 35 positive feedbacks on a seller account which most likely is run by the same agency.
    And the seller account is in full operations on amazon.co.uk marketplace. Se sellers be on your guard as the agency is very active and who knows how many operatives this agency have on the amazon.co.uk marketplace.

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