Season 1, Episode 21

Fake Documentation

We’ve seen it all on Amazon, from fake reviews to faking brand approvals. Recently we’re spotting more sellers using third-party services to provide fake documentation, not realizing that they are committing fraud. Ultimately, Amazon will hold you the Seller responsible for the conduct on your account, regardless of whether it was you or someone faking the documents on your behalf.

Show Notes

Transcript

Chris: [00:00:07] Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, our podcast, where we talk about seller problems and Amazon issues and try to present solutions wherever possible. Of course, I’m here with Leah McHugh. Leah, how are you doing?

Leah: [00:00:26] Good, thanks.  How are you Chris?

Chris: [00:00:27] Good. And we’ve had a lot of good comments about this podcast. So thanks for listening to prior episodes and we hope you’ll join us for future ones. We do hope as well that we won’t have to have this particular conversation too many times, because today we’re talking about fabricated documentation. Whether it’s a faked invoice, or a lot of sellers faking brand approvals from certain brands. Mostly, by hiring third-party services that they haven’t really vetted it at all. And we’ve seen a couple of examples. People contacting us saying that they were recommended to a service from a friend, the friend didn’t really tell them how the service operated or how they completed the documentation. In the course of the account suspension process, the seller learned that third-party service was simply faking the documentation for them.

Leah: [00:01:12] If you don’t have invoices and someone is like, I can get you invoices in your name. There’s really no legitimate way that they can do that unless you’re buying the inventory for that, the invoices for. It’s one thing to say that you didn’t understand what they were doing, but you also knew that you weren’t buying those products, that you now have an invoice for that’s in your name.

Chris: [00:01:31] And maybe some of them thought they’re hiring a service to submit something directly to Amazon on their behalf. But you remember what you did, right? If you didn’t buy this stuff and somebody sends you an invoice with your name on it. Obviously, you know, that that’s faking documentation. The problem is a lot of sellers don’t understand the severity of that offense. And they’re extremely surprised when Amazon considers that fraud and sends you a code of conduct violation message, and an account suspension. Or, maybe they think they’ll be suspended possibly, but they can resolve it easily.

Leah: [00:02:02] For all, it’s a hard one to come back from. That’s not just a Amazon policy thing. That’s a legal thing.  It is possible to come back from those. I’m not saying it isn’t possible because we’ve seen it.  Anything is possible on Amazon, but it’s not really a good business practice to begin with.

Chris: [00:02:18] Right.

Leah: [00:02:18] And  we’ve got a lot of the, like I was new. I didn’t know what I was doing, which is something that we’ve talked about on the podcast before. But again, if the first thing that you do as a seller on Amazon is commit fraud. What reason do they have to give you a second chance?

Chris: [00:02:32] Right. And we’ve heard from people who said, oh, I didn’t realize it was fraud.  You’re essentially telling Amazon, you don’t know how to conduct business if you don’t realize what fraud is. So they’re not motivated to bring you back when you say I was ignorant about the law, or I was ignorant about fraud, or I was ignorant about this service. If they think that you have absolutely no idea how to vet a third party service that can put Amazon buyers in harms way, then they’ll never trust you with a seller account. If you’re doing it in the very beginning, like Leah was saying. You’re saying that you’re so much of a novice and so much of a beginner that you don’t belong in their marketplace. So you’re solidifying the argument against reinstating you. I think that’s what people are missing.

Leah: [00:03:11] And it’s a slippery slope. If you’re willing to fake documents like invoices or letters of authorization. It makes it seem highly probable that you would also be willing to fake things like safety documentation, or any other documentation that Amazon requests from me that you just don’t happen to have. They’re asking for these things for a reason. And that reason isn’t just to make you jump through hoops.

Chris: [00:03:37] Right. And if you’re hiring a company that’s helping you fake documentation from one brand. Why wouldn’t it happen again with another brand in the future, especially if you use them in the past and it was successful and you somehow snuck through, then you’re likely to go back to that source. And don’t forget, Amazon is trying to get sellers to tell them about those companies. Just so that they can chase them either legally or ban sellers who are using those services. It’s not just about your seller account, at that point. Amazon is trying to get all of those people out of all the evil doers collected and rounded up and kicked out. So if you are willing to show them,  Leah was saying maybe there is a way to get back. Maybe there are some people who get, re-instated not just from random, dumb luck. If you’re willing to help Amazon chase after services like that, you’re helping them solve a problem. And it’s not just newbies, by the way. I’ve had some sellers who have been selling three or four years, tell me we trusted the wrong company. We didn’t know what we were doing. It’s not just brand new accounts.

Leah: [00:04:36] No, of course. And like I said , it, isn’t just things like un-gating. I know, we see plenty of sellers who are selling products that don’t have the required legal documentation to support them. So they’re not generally, necessarily, faking documentation when they come to us. But they just don’t have the documentation that they legally need to have to sell those products.  At a certain point, you can’t get that documentation anymore. You can’t retroactively get your pesticide registered with the EPA for like the last three years that you’ve been selling that product.

Chris: [00:05:13] Right. And I think people think that changing a date, like, well, that’s not such a big deal. It’s not like I changed the company I was buying from entirely, but I’m just making a date change. They rejected my invoice because it wasn’t within 365 days. So I moved it back a month. Any kind of manipulation of that document is the same kind of fraud. You’re either doing something fraudulent or you’re not. It’s not, well, it’s just changing a number.

Leah: [00:05:36] It comes down to a safety thing. If a supplier or manufacturer is tracking things by lots, if a certain lot has an issue with it, that needs to be recalled or it needs to be fixed your changing that date. Their ability, Amazon’s ability, whoever’s ability to track the inventory that is unsafe, or that does need to be recalled, right? It’s not just a date.

Chris: [00:06:01] Right. If Amazon lets you pass with bogus information or fake safety documents, they’re on the hook for it. That’s what I think a lot of sellers don’t understand. We understand that Amazon rarely asked for compliance documentation in past years, but finally they circled around to doing that. They say the buyer experience is there, you know, chief objective here..

Leah: [00:06:19] Well, they’ve had a few judges tell them that they’re now liable for the safety of the products sold on Amazon. So now they’re a little bit more concerned about the safety of the products sold on amazon.

Chris: [00:06:28] You’re hurting their life. You’re putting, making them more liable and you’re putting them at risk when you’re faking things. It’s not just, Hey, you’re a big company, I’m a small fry. Give me a second chance. They actively don’t want you to have another chance if you’re that risky to the point where you’re putting them at risk, not just their buyers, the company of Amazon. Because God knows what can show up in a newspaper or news article or social media. Something can go viral saying I bought this from Amazon, from this seller. And then in the course of the investigation, Amazon realizes that they either ignored or accepted fake documentation. They can’t afford that risk.

Leah: [00:07:05] Exactly. And again , if you’re willing to change a date, what else are you willing to change?

Chris: [00:07:11] Right. And also, like you mentioned, this is illegal. This isn’t just an Amazon policy. Fraud is a legal violation. Right. You know, you’re not just violating policy. I had a conversation with the seller today who said, well, I’m going to hire a lawyer to write a letter, to send to Amazon legal, or I’m going to take a legal approach.

Leah: [00:07:27] What is even a legal approach? They broke the law.

Chris: [00:07:30] I kept saying to him, like, first of all, that makes no sense because sending it to legal, isn’t going to result in anything other than what you’re admitting guilt to Amazon legal. That probably does more harm than good. Second of all, what legal argument do you plan to make through that lawyer? Is it just another way of apologizing saying we’ll never do it again? Is that lawyer that you’ve hired telling you what the legal potential legal consequences are of admitting that in writing to Amazon legal at a time where Amazon is trying to basically get rid of all sorts of nefarious parties doing this stuff. What if legal wrote back to you? Let’s just say they read it and they say, you know, Hank. This is an excellent opportunity to squeeze you for everyone you hired so we can go after them. And then we’ll make you our witness when we go after them in court.

Leah: [00:08:16] Well, I think if history has showed us anything it’s that they are willing to make cases against people and take these things to court. I mean, we saw it. We all remember the Fiverr thing however many years ago.

Chris: [00:08:28] That’s what I was thinking, exactly. Not just the Fiverr thing, but if you’re hiring any kind of lawyer, you need to discuss with them, what are the potential legal consequences of my admission of guilt in writing that goes to an adversary Amazon in this case or another party of any kind, they shouldn’t just say, oh, you know, pay us a few thousand bucks. We work with Amazon sellers all the time. We’ll write a nice letter. You’ll send it to legal. They’ll take it seriously because it’s from a lawyer and you’ll have a better chance of success. They probably need to tell you, well, here’s the downside of putting this in writing. If they’re not doing that, then good sign that you’ve hired the wrong attorney.

Leah: [00:09:06] Definitely.  Once it goes to the legal department, no other department is going to touch it. So it’s not like you can try legal and then go back to seller performance. Once it’s gone to legal, no other team is going to look at your case. And then really your only shot after that is arbitration. And realistically, what is even your argument in arbitration at that point?  I submitted fraudulent documents and Amazon suspended me and I think that’s unfair.

Chris: [00:09:28] Well, a big part of this is people, sellers, aren’t getting their final funds. After they wait 90 days they’re not getting their money because they fake the documentation. So understand that when you’re willingly doing this whether it’s malicious or not. When you are a party to submitting fraudulent fake documentation to Amazon, you could be losing all of your money. Not just the money associated with those brands, those ASIN’s, those orders, they can keep everything. And then like you were saying, if you went to arbitration your odds of winning are much lower because you’ve been caught faking documentation. So something to think about. Do not blindly trust any third party service that’s meandering.

Leah: [00:10:07] Even if their website says we are TOS compliant, anyone can put that on their website. It’s pretty much on all of the black hat websites.

Chris: [00:10:15] Everyone says that. We’ve seen YouTube videos. Which I’m not surprised that they put that on their website. What really surprises me is so many sellers are just blindly believing this stuff without any fact checking without any due diligence. Remember your, the buck stops with you. You are the owner of the business. Amazon expects you to take responsibility for all the decision-making around that business. If you hired one of these services, you can’t just blame the service for misleading you. I’ve had a lot of people send me plans of action that they wrote. And the root causes section is all those guys, those guys, those guys, we hired them. We trusted them. Amazon reads that, what’s their first thought? You trusted them. Why did you trust them? Where is your ownership? Where are you taking responsibility for the fact that you paid these guys to mess with us and to mess with our buyers and ultimately to ruin your business. So where is that appeal where we can trust that you can interact with our buyers and not do that again in the future?

Leah: [00:11:14] Even outside of the outside services, we’ll see POA’s like, oh, well we fired that employee because the employee was doing everything wrong and we had no idea. Root causes that you had no idea what that employee was doing. Not that the employee was doing it.

Chris: [00:11:27] Right. We’ve seen those too, right. The employee fabricated the documentation or manipulated the invoice. First of all, how believable is that? Second of all, throwing an employee under the bus never does anything. All that does is say that you’ve got no control over your employees. You have no idea what they’re doing. You have no oversight over them. You can put that in the POA. So that isn’t a viable acceptable root cause. That makes you look pretty bad too. You have to come back with some pretty good solutions for how you’re going to control what the employees are doing in the future. So, anyway, any questions on this rather delicate topic. Hopefully not many of you are experiencing this right now. If you have any questions about it, please let us know, come to ecommerceChris and send us a message through the contact form. And thanks again for listening in to sell a performance solutions.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Leah McHugh

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