Amid COVID-19, Amazon vets vendors via video to weed out fraudsters

Amazon has started trialling the use of video conference calls to verify new vendors who wish to sell goods on its websites, in a bid to crack down on fraudulent listings.

The “live verification” pilot aims to check the identities of third-party sellers operating via its Marketplace platform, which has been criticised for allowing the sale of counterfeit and falsified products that rip off consumers and may be unsafe.

The video calls – which use Amazon’s Chime video conference app – are part of an upgraded seller-verification programme which was first introduced earlier this year and required new sellers to be checked out in person. The coronavirus outbreak means it has had to make that a remote process, and it started using video tech in February.

The interviewing adds to other risk-screening measures, including an artificial intelligence-based vetting system to check for example if the seller is linked to a previously banned account. It has already been piloted with more than 1,000 merchant applicants based in China, the US, UK and Japan, said Amazon.

During the video call, an Amazon associate checks that a would-be seller matches their identification and other documents they have provided as part of their application.

“As we practice social distancing, we are testing a process that allows us to validate prospective sellers’ identification via video conferencing,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

“This pilot allows us to connect one-on-one with prospective sellers while making it even more difficult for fraudsters to hide.”

Amazon claims its seller screening helped it block 2.5m accounts from listing items for sale last year. There’s no word yet on how widely the video approach to seller verification will be rolled out, and when it will decide whether to use it routinely.

A recent survey by Sapio found that 26 per cent of US consumers were tricked into buying a fake product in the previous 12 months, and 27 per cent never got a refund from the online retail they bought it from.

Lawmakers meanwhile are starting to step up efforts to force the main online retailers to take more action to curb the scourge of online fake sales. In March, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the US – called SHOP SAFE – that would make e-commerce companies like Amazon and eBay liable for counterfeit goods sold via their websites.

Amazon insists that it strictly prohibits counterfeit on its platform, saying that in 2018 alone it invested more than $400m to fight fraud, counterfeit, and other forms of abuse as it tries to drove the number of fakes sold to “zero”.

“In 2019, we launched new programmes including Project Zero and IP Accelerator, expanded existing programmes like Brand Registry and Transparency, and piloted new innovations including the Utility Patent Neutral Evaluation process,” said a spokesperson recently.

Earlier this year, the company also committed to reporting all confirmed counterfeiters to law enforcement to help them build stronger criminal cases that can hold counterfeiters accountable, she added.

“We are actively fighting bad actors and protecting our store and we will continue to work with brands, government officials, and law enforcement.”

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