I didn’t intend to become a liar for hire, a purveyor of fake news on that terrible site, Amazon. But I knew I went too far when I woke up shrouded by my untruths. My blanket, pillows, and even my duvet were a lie. The pajamas, my night light, the Christmas lights that I hung on the wall: all falsehoods.
For the last nine months, I’d been writing positive Amazon reviews in exchange for free merchandise. Like most criminals, I started out legit, through a site called RebateKey, which offers rebates between 5% and 100%. Sellers used this third-party service of small refunds to bolster the search results when consumers are looking for, say, LifeStone Rose Quartz Crystal Soap with French Pink Clay and Rose Geranium Essential Oil, a meat thermometer, or a newsboy cap. The rebate check arrived after 30 days, so I couldn’t return the product after payment. It only made sense to participate if I were truly interested in owning the product in question.
But after I contacted RebateKey customer service using Facebook Messenger, the social media data vacuum otherwise known as Facebook apparently pegged me as someone interested in writing Amazon product reviews. It served me an ad with a picture of a desk chair that read: “Click here for 100% rebate offer.” I clicked it. A draconian private message popped up: “Welcome to Smugdesk company’s Reviewer Reward Program and participate in awesome Free product trial. Everyone only have one chance to join this program. There are lots of people want to enjoy our benefits, so before we officially confirm the cooperation, we need to make sure you can accept the following.” In halted English, I was given a set of directions. And despite the disembodied creepiness, I clicked “I agree.” Worst-case scenario, I figured I could return the chair and get a refund. Following the directions, I plugged in specific search keywords into Amazon, found the chair and separate wheels for it, and purchased them for $196.72. The items came three days later in a heavy box that barely fit through my door.
“I didn’t need any of this stuff…