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Amazon, Amid Crackdown on Seller Scams, Fires Employees Over Data Leak (#GotBitcoin?)

Amid crackdown on seller scams, fires employees over data leak. Amazon was also investigating suspected bribes of its employees, The issues were reported in September. Since then, the company has dismissed several workers in the U.S. and India for allegedly inappropriately accessing internal data that was being misused by disreputable merchants, these people said. Inc. is fighting a barrage of seller scams on its website, including firing several employees suspected of having helped supply independent merchants with inside information, according to people familiar with the company’s effort.

Merchants find new ways to sabotage rivals during the all-important holiday shopping season.

Amazon in recent weeks also has deleted thousands of suspect reviews, restricted sellers’ access to customer data on its website and stifled some techniques that trick the site into surfacing products higher in search results, according to the people.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the company is aggressively pursuing those who are trying to harm sellers on its website, using tools including machine learning to block bad behavior before it happens.

“If bad actors abuse our systems, we take swift action, including terminating their selling accounts, deleting reviews, withholding funds, taking legal action and working with law enforcement,” she added.

The crackdown, however, hasn’t stopped some sellers from sabotaging rivals. A recent rash of merchants claim competitors are maliciously flagging products as being counterfeit or infringing trademarks, prompting Amazon to temporarily boot legitimate products from the site while it evaluates them.

Sellers also are buying Amazon wholesaler accounts on the black market to gain access to volumes of product listings, people familiar with the practice said. These accounts on Amazon’s Vendor Central system are designed to enable wholesalers to edit product listings to ensure they are marketed accurately. But some sellers misuse these accounts to alter rivals’ product pages, such as by changing photos to unrelated items, these people said.

Some Chinese firms are selling wholesale vendor accounts for roughly $15,000, or renting them for up to $1,500 a month, the people familiar with the matter said.

An estimated three million merchants sell products on Amazon, according to e-commerce data firm Marketplace Pulse. This year, U.S. shoppers are on track to spend $124.1 billion online, 15% more than last year, according to Adobe Analytics. Roughly half that spending takes place on Amazon, according to analyst estimates.

The competition intensifies in the all-important holiday retail season, helping prompt Vendor Central attacks.

Ankit Jain, an Amazon seller in Boca Raton, Fla., said his best-selling mermaid sequined throw pillow was suddenly misclassified as an adult product in mid-November, meaning it would no longer show up in most Amazon searches. Mr. Jain said he succeeded in persuading Amazon to switch it back.

Mr. Jain now has his own team based in India monitoring his listings every three minutes, so they can complain immediately to Amazon when his products are under attack. He estimates that miscategorizations have cost him roughly 20% of his early holiday season sales.

It was reported in July that there were a variety of ways sellers attempt to outsmart Amazon’s automated system, which ranks some half-billion products in search results. The tactics include pummeling rivals’ listings with overly positive or negative reviews, and repeatedly clicking on links to products they want boosted to trick Amazon’s algorithm into ranking them higher in search results, according to people familiar with the practices.

Amazon has increased efforts to scrub the site of potentially suspicious reviews, according to sellers. In recent months, some product listings lost thousands of reviews in a day, a number that can take years to build. Some of the reviews were legitimate and erased inadvertently, according to the sellers and a person familiar with the matter.

Some sellers engage in a practice dubbed “brushing,” in which fake accounts use real addresses to place orders so they can leave positive reviews, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon’s security team was sent scrambling late last year, when a customer wrote Chief Executive Jeff Bezos to complain of such a scam after a vibrator he didn’t order was sent to his address, one of the people said.

Intermediaries, meanwhile, are selling what they claim is authentic Amazon sales data that can give sellers an advantage, people familiar with the matter have said.

​Amazon is focusing part of the internal bribery investigation on India, a major alleged source of data misuse by Amazon employees, according to a person familiar with the effort.

Some Amazon employees in India and China who work with sellers in customer-support roles have said their ability to search an internal database for data such as specific product performance or trending keywords has been strictly limited, according to people familiar with the matter. Some in India also are no longer able to use their USB ports to download such data, some of the people said.

In October, Amazon notified some customers by email that their email addresses were shared with an outside seller in violation of its policies, and it said it had fired the responsible employee. Amazon last month again notified customers that their email addresses were disclosed, though the company called it a technical error and not a breach, without elaborating.

Fit Simplify, a Pleasanton, Calif., fitness-equipment company, said it believes it was the victim of a Vendor Central attack after product photos of its fitness bands were changed to an image with text that read, “Please stop attacking us or we will attack all the sellers in this category. Let’s be good sellers, OK?”

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