There are many challenges that Amazon sellers face, but few are quite as frustrating and potentially damaging to sales as hijackers and counterfeits.
Scammers will copy your listing, start price wars, or even send threats – and Brand Registry doesn’t always prevent them from doing so, either. If you’re an Amazon seller losing sales from scammers and hijackers and are wondering what you can do about it, this article will provide you with all the information you need to save your store as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Why Amazon Hijackers Are a Common Problem
Amazon sellers are particularly vulnerable to hijackers for a few reasons. First of all, any seller can list their product on Amazon – which means that your listing could be hijacked by anyone.
Secondly, while Brand Registry does help when hijackers try to sell products with logos or other trademarked images in their listings, it doesn’t protect you from scammers who imitate your listings in other ways. All they need is some photoshop and switching up a letter or two, and they can fly under the radar for weeks or even months before you realize something is wrong.
This sneaky behavior makes it easy for scammers to hijack your listings and sell counterfeit products – which can result in lost sales, lower rankings on Amazon search results pages, and even legal threats from the original manufacturer of your product.
4 Common Tactics of Malicious Amazon Hijackers
There are a few different tactics that scammers might use against Amazon sellers in order to hijack their listings:
1) Listing Imitation
They copy your listing, often with the only difference being a slightly different product name and/or altered photos in order to avoid getting caught.
These scammers are the ones you usually notice first because their listings are more or less identical to yours, but they can take away a lot of your traffic before they’re ever removed. Worse yet, it’s common for a new one to pop up almost immediately after you’ve managed to report the first one. If you’re doing retail arbitrage (e.g. building from Alibaba suppliers), there’s no discernable difference from the customer’s point of view between your Amazon business and the other seller because they’re likely selling the exact same product. They’re copying your Amazon listing to price gouge your product listings in the Buy Box, or just as a way to compete with your well-performing listing.
3) Counterfeit Product Sales
Some Amazon hijackers will sell counterfeit products as they imitate your Amazon listings as well. Often, brand name and logo will be changed but not enough for many customers to notice. If you’re a brand owner with a good reputation, you’ll likely deal with multiple sellers attempting to hijack your product listings selling a counterfeit product.
The main difference between this and product or listing imitation is whether or not you have a trademarked product, private label product, and/or Amazon Brand Registry. Listing hijackers selling counterfeit products go beyond listing imitation to infringe on intellectual property. They can easily dupe customers into thinking that they’re buying from private label sellers and hurt your brand reputation in the process. They often show up in the Buy Box of your listings and the counterfeit or similar version of your product will attract customers with lower prices.
2) Account Hijacking
They will hack your account, take your listing(s), and often change prices, descriptions, and more.
This is the most damaging type of Amazon hijacker because it can lead to your account being taken down. Oftentimes the hijacker has a competing listing or is a private label seller themselves, and has hijacked your account to make theirs look better and become the default seller. The changes they make can result in reports and policy violations that lead to your hijacked account being suspended and your listings removed at worst and unhappy customers or negative reviews at best.
4) Listing Sabotage
They will intentionally damage your listing’s ranking using malicious tactics, but without imitating or directly hijacking.
The most common form of sabotage is price gouging. However, a more damaging form of listing sabotage is fake reviews. They will use fake buyer accounts and test buy your products in order to a negative review as a verified buyer or even report you. Some Amazon hijackers will threaten sellers with listing sabotage in addition to other forms of malicious selling to discourage the seller from taking action.
Though a counterfeit seller may use listing sabotage, some may have their own brand (and even Amazon Brand Registry). They target other sellers who are selling the same product even if the products prominently display differences and are clearly not from the same brand simply because they’re competitors.
How Do Scammers and Hijackers on Amazon Get Away With It?
All of the above can be devastating to new sellers or even established brands, so why doesn’t Amazon do more about it?
Amazon support for sellers is notoriously lacking, but in this case, every day they’re unresponsive or unhelpful is costing you. This isn’t because Amazon isn’t concerned about hijacking or scammers on their platform, though – a lot of the changes they made to the a10 algorithm for ranking listings, for example, were to thwart malicious practices and boost the rankings of genuine Amazon sellers. Additionally, the company created the Amazon Transparency Program, the Amazon Project Zero Program, and Amazon Brand Registry to prevent hijackers from copying private label product listings and causing legitimate sellers to lose money.
Still, it’s hard to get Amazon support for fraudulent sellers because:
Amazon is too big for its own good.
When you think about the hundreds of sellers in your category alone, it’s easy to see how your pleas for action can get drowned out in the chaos. The sheer amount of sellers and listings make it easier for non-legitimate ones to go unnoticed. Many products are produced in the same factory and aren’t brand registered, which can make it easy for an unsuspecting customer to fall for an Amazon hijacker thinking they’re buying the actual product from a default seller or registered brand.
Amazon’s values are exploitable.
Amazon touts itself as a “customer-obsessed” company. Guess who isn’t a customer? You.
It’s hard to get Amazon’s support unless you’re a big brand or you can clearly outline that your problem impacts their bottom line – oftentimes, it doesn’t. Amazon’s Brand Registry and Amazon seller central help mitigate this to some extent, but if the hijacker’s product listing page has positive reviews and customers haven’t made complaints, it’s up to you to get the company’s attention or send a Cease and Desist letter (or both).
Trademark infringement and counterfeit laws get blurry overseas.
It’s so difficult to take legal action against overseas entities that counterfeiting has become a legitimate, trillion-dollar industry.
Take Disney, for example. Disney is notoriously protective of its brand and anyone coming close to imitating it in the West will receive a cease and desist letter or trademark infringement claim very quickly. In China, on the other hand…
Anyone can make an Amazon account, and plenty of sellers and vendors are overseas. Sending a Cease and Desist letter to an overseas seller profile is a more complicated process than normal. Sometimes the trademark process can’t help either unless other countries were designated in trademark registration, giving Amazon hijackers a comfortable amount of space.
You’re dealing with professionals.
If you’re lucky, you’re dealing with a single bad actor who will move on after you play whack-a-mole with the handful of accounts they have. But make no mistake – there are entire teams of scammers out there, some with employees on payroll and years of experience in exploiting sellers on Amazon. Some even hijack Amazon’s products on Amazon!
If you’re selling products from an overseas vendor and aren’t brand registered, you’re likely not the only seller. It’s not unheard of for vendors to do business with fraudsters. That’s not to say they’re in on it – many just can’t keep tabs on every single one of their sellers. But if the Amazon hijacker has language and locality on their side, it’s a lot easier for them to frame you as the counterfeit to the vendor, or at least plead their case enough to get away with what they’re doing.
How to Deal with Amazon Hijackers
1) Gather Evidence.
In order to ensure your report is successful, be sure you have all the evidence you need to show exactly what you’re dealing with. Here’s what Amazon expects when you report a seller for policy violations:
- The store or business name of the seller you are reporting
- The ASIN or ISBN of the item’s detail page and the product title
- The marketplaces for which the violation has occurred
- A concise explanation of the violation based on the policy
- Supporting documentation (for example, order IDs, related messaging, or receipts)
Those last two are a bit vague despite being the most important. Save URLs of listings and screenshot what they look like. Feel free to highlight areas where fraud or imitation is apparent in photos or text. For example, if you have a private label product and the Amazon seller is claiming to sell the same product, save images detailing this (e.g. logos or anywhere in their Amazon listing that uses your own brand name).
Screenshot any messages or emails if the seller sent threatening messages.
Save comparable images of their Amazon listing and yours and note the dates when you collected this info – you can include the clock at the corner of your computer screen in your screenshots to be completely safe.
2) Reach out to the unauthorized seller.
Once you’ve gathered everything you need, you can contact the seller without the risk of losing any evidence. Do not skip this before reporting to Amazon or reaching out to Amazon support, because they will ask you to do so if you haven’t. Additionally, record your communication with them as further evidence. Lastly, any communication you do without a lawyer or representative should be done with your buyer account instead of your Amazon seller account.
How you reach out to them depends on the nature of your case and your brand:
Sending a Cease and Desist letter to the seller is your best bet. You don’t have to anticipate going to court any time soon, it’s just a useful measure that makes your case go up in terms of urgency, or best case intimidates the hijacker enough to stop what they’re doing on their own. You also don’t have to hire a lawyer to send a Cease and Desist letter, but it’s recommended you do to ensure it’s legally valid and no mistakes are made.
If the former isn’t an option, message the seller directly. Do not send them all of your evidence. The goal here isn’t to tip your hand, it’s to let them know exactly what they’re doing and you gave them a warning before reporting. Also, be sure to keep a stern but non-emotional tone. It’s tempting to chew them out for the financial losses they’re causing, but you need to be sure you have no potential missteps or overreactions on your side.
Lastly, if the seller has more than one Amazon listing that hijacks yours, be sure to note the ASINs of all of them individually. This ensures each one is documented and there’s no grey area up for dispute.
Here’s an example message:
To whom it may concern at [Seller Account Name],
This is a formal warning to remove listing [ASIN Here] and cease [Violations Here] before your account is suspended. We have gotten [Exact Number Here] sellers permanently removed from Amazon in the past for doing exactly what you’re doing, and we do not take this behavior lightly.
You have [Exact Number Here] business days to remove [ASIN Here] before we take legal action and your entire seller account on Amazon is permanently removed.
This is your first and final warning.
Generally, 2-3 business days is a good timeframe to give, but it’s up to you. If you haven’t reported a seller in the past before, feel free to make that part up!
3) Report the Amazon Hijacker
If you’re not a Registered Brand, you’ll need to fill out this form. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line like “Report a Violation: [Nature of your case]” e.g. “Report a Violation: Counterfeit Listing.” This may be less effective if you do so with an email not linked to your seller account.
If you are a Brand Owner, go to seller central dashboard and log in to your account. Once logged in, click on “Report A Trademark Violation” under the “Actions” tab. From there, you’ll require roughly the same information as above, but the process will be a lot more straightforward and likely faster. Once you have two successful violations against sellers, you’ll be given “project zero” protection, which will make it easier for you to protect your brand and report sellers in the future.
If your entire account was hacked, you have a few options. First, you can still email email@example.com and include any information you have to verify your identity and the fact that the account was originally yours.
You can also report your hacked account from a buyer account (make a new one if needed). There are two ways you can do this:
- Through the customer service portal. You’ll be directed to a chatbot first, but once you’re connected with a customer service representative you can give them all of your evidence and explain your situation.
- By reporting them as a verified purchaser. To do this, you’ll have to test buy a product from the seller (their competing listing or your hijacked one should work). Report the product as a counterfeit and repeat the same steps mentioned from there.
- Leaving a bad review/answering questions noting they’re a fraud as a verified purchaser. After you test buy from them, go beyond reporting to leave a warning to other buyers and increase the chance of multiple reports being made.
Some general advice no matter how you make a report to Amazon:
- Though you want as much evidence as possible, keep your email/message short. You shouldn’t need more than 3-4 sentences to state your purpose of reporting.
- Focus on what’s important from Amazon’s perspective as a company – the policies being violated. As flustered as you may be, it’s important to stay on track to ensure your case gets dealt with in a timely manner.
Here are the policies that Amazon looks out for in their words to include within your messaging:
- Provide Accurate Information to Amazon and Amazon Customers
- Act Fairly Without Misusing Amazon’s Features and Services
- Not Try to Damage Other Sellers, Listings, or Ratings
- Not Try to Influence Ratings, Feedback, and Reviews
- Not Send Unsolicited or Inappropriate Messages
- Not Attempt to Contact Customers Except Using the Buyer-Seller Messaging Platform
- Not Try to Misuse the Amazon Sales Process
- Not Operate More Than One Sales Account on Amazon Fraudulently
4) Monitor & Wait
Though it can be stressful, keep in mind it takes time for Amazon to investigate your case. Having clear-cut evidence and all your information up front should prevent any unnecessary delays, but you’ll likely need to wait for 2 business days for any response. Additionally, Amazon does not disclose what action they decide to take after they’ve investigated.
In the meanwhile, check the hijacker’s page and listings to monitor the situation. You may see that their listings are taken down, were changed according to policies, and so on.
If the listing and/or seller account was not taken down within a week or two, continue documenting their policy violations with screenshots and dates. If the seller has stopped hijacking your brand image or listings but was not terminated, keep an eye on their account to ensure they don’t revert back to policy-violating behavior at any point in the future.
Amazon is a great resource as a side business or full-blown career, but it can be dangerous and complex as well. As an Amazon seller, you always want to make sure your account stays protected from hijackers and scammers who might try to imitate or copy listings. With this information, you will ensure that your evidence is valid and clear, you did everything Amazon wants you to do before reporting, and you’ll have the best chance at getting results.
If your brand is dealing with persistent and damaging counterfeits, hijacking, or other unauthorized selling on Amazon, it may be time to consult with a full-service Amazon ad agency. Our team of experts give Amazon sellers more direct representation and prevent hijacking from hurting your brand in addition to helping with other parts of your store like optimizing your listings, running ad campaigns, and more.