Amazon: An Ecosystem in Which Some Bad Actors Thrive

October 6, 2022

Wow! Who knew? I must admit that I have developed what I call a “Hypothetical Ecommerce Crime Ecosystem.” Because I am an old, dinobaby, I have not shared my musings in this semi entertaining Web log. I do relatively few “public” talks. I am careful not to be “volunteered” for a local networking meet up like those organized by the somewhat ineffectual “chamber of commerce” in central Kentucky. Plus, I am never sure if those with whom I speak are “into” ecosystems of crime. Sure, last week I gave a couple of boring lectures to a few law enforcement, crime analysts, and government senior officials. But did the light bulbs flashing during and after my talk impair my vision. Nah.

I did read a write up which nibbles around the edges of my diagram for my hypothetical crime ecosystem. “There’s an Underground Market Where Secondhand Amazon Merchant Accounts Are Bought and Sold for Thousands of Dollars” asserts as 100 percent actual factual:

An Insider investigation revealed a thriving gray market for secondhand Amazon seller accounts. On Telegram and forums like Swapd and PlayerUp, thousands of brokers openly sell accounts, with prices ranging from a few hundred bucks for a new account to thousands of dollars apiece for years-old accounts with established histories. … The accounts sometimes steal random people’s identities to disguise themselves, and sellers are using these fake credentials to engage in questionable behavior on Amazon, Insider found — including selling counterfeit textbooks. The people’s whose names and addresses are being stolen are sometimes then sent hundreds of returns by unhappy customers.

Is there other possibly inappropriate activity on the Amazon giant bookstore? The write up says:

Merchants have used shady tactics like submitting false fraud reports targeting rivals, or bribing Amazon employees to scuttle competitors. Others peddle counterfeit or shoddily produced wares. Amazon bans fraudulent sellers, along with other accounts they’re suspected of owning, and blacklists their business name, physical location, and IP address.

Okay, but why?

My immediate reaction is money. May I offer a few speculations about such ecosystem centric behavior? You say, No. Too bad. Here are my opinions:

  1. Amazon does basic cost benefit analyses. The benefit is the amount of money Amazon gets to keep. The cost is the sum of the time, effort, and direct outflow of cash required to monitor and terminate what might be called the Silicon Valley way. (Yeah, I know Amazon like Microsoft is in some state in the US Northwest, but the spirit of the dudes and dudettes in Silicon Valley knows no geographic boundaries. Did you notice the “con” in “silicon.” Coincidence?
  2. Bad actors know a thriving ecosystem when they see one. Buy stolen products from a trusted third party, and who worries to much about where the person in the white van obtained them. Pay the driver, box ‘em  up, and ship out those razors and other goods easily stolen from assorted brick-and-mortar stores in certain US locations; for example, the Walgreen’s in Tony Bennett’s favorite city.
  3. The foil of third party intermediaries makes it easy for everyone in the ecosystem to say, “Senator, thank you for the question. I do not know the details of our firm’s business relationship. I will obtain the information and send a report to your office.” When? Well, maybe struggling FedEx or the Senate’s internal mail system lost the report. Bummer. Just request another copy, rinse, and repeat. The method has worked for a couple of decades. Don’t fix it if the system is not broken.

What’s interesting about my “Hypothetical Ecommerce Crime Ecosystem” in my opinion is:

  1. Plausible deniability is baked in
  2. Those profiting from exploitation of the Amazon money rain forest have zero incentive or downside to leave the system as it is. Change costs money and — let’s face it — there have been zero significant downsides to the status quo for decades. Yep, decades.
  3. Enforcement resources are stretched at this time. Thus, what I call “soft fraud” is easier than ever to set up and embed in business processes.

Is the cited article correct? Sure, I believe everything I read online, including Amazon reviews of wireless headphones and cheap T shirts.

Is my analysis correct? I don’t know. I am probably wrong and I am too old, too worn out, too jaded to do much more than ask, “Is that product someone purchased on Amazon an original, unfenced item?”

Stephen E Arnold, October 6, 2022

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