Amazon.com Inc has sued four websites to stop them from selling fake, positive product reviews.
In a complaint filed on Wednesday in King County Superior Court in Washington, Amazon said the bogus reviews undermine a system that the Seattle-based online retailer launched 20 years ago to help shoppers using its website decide what to buy.
Four- and five-star reviews can aid sales, especially if customers perceive them as unbiased.
But Amazon said the defendants are misleading customers, and through their activity generating improper profit for themselves and a "handful" of dishonest sellers and manufacturers.
"While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon's brand," the complaint said.
The defendants include Jay Gentile, a California man who allegedly runs buyazonreviews.com, as well as unnamed operators of buyamazonreviews.com, bayreviews.net and buyreviewsnow.com, according to the complaint.
Amazon said the defendants have caused reviews to be posted on its website intermittently, through a "slow drip" designed to evade its detection systems, at a typical cost of $19 to $22 per review.
The defendants did not immediately respond on Thursday to requests for comment or could not immediately be reached.
Amazon's lawsuit accuses the various defendants of trademark infringement, and violations of federal anti-cybersquatting and Washington consumer protection laws.
It seeks a halt to the alleged fake reviews and improper use of the Amazon name, as well as compensatory and triple damages.
Yelp Inc, which lets consumers post reviews to its website, on Feb. 13 sued yelpdirector.com's alleged operators, accusing them of trying to help businesses through posting positive reviews and suppressing bad reviews. The defendants have not responded to that complaint, court records show.
The case is Amazon.com Inc v. Gentile et al, Washington State Superior Court, King County, No. 15-2-08579-4.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)