In online markets, a store's reputation is closely tied to its profitability. Sellers' desire to quickly achieve a high reputation has fueled a profitable underground business that operates as a specialized crowdsourcing marketplace and accumulates wealth by allowing online sellers to harness human laborers to conduct fake transactions to improve their stores' reputations. We term such an underground market a seller-reputationescalation (SRE) market. In this article, we investigate the impact of the SRE service on reputation escalation by performing in-depth measurements of the prevalence of the SRE service, the business model and market size of SRE markets, and the characteristics of sellers and offered laborers. To this end, we have infiltrated five SRE markets and studied their operations using daily data collection over a continuous period of 2 months. We identified more than 11,000 online sellers posting at least 219,165 fake-purchase tasks on the five SRE markets. These transactions earned at least $46,438 in revenue for the five SRE markets, and the total value of merchandise involved exceeded $3,452,530. Our study demonstrates that online sellers using the SRE service can increase their stores' reputations at least 10 times faster than legitimate ones while about 25% of them were visibly penalized. Even worse, we found a much stealthier and more hazardous service that can, within a single day, boost a seller's reputation by such a degree that would require a legitimate seller at least a year to accomplish. Armed with our analysis of the operational characteristics of the underground economy, we offer some insights into potential mitigation strategies. Finally, we revisit the SRE ecosystem 1 year later to evaluate the latest dynamism of the SRE markets, especially the statuses of the online stores once identified to launch fake-transaction campaigns on the SRE markets. We observe that the SRE markets are not as active as they were 1 year ago and about 17% of the involved online stores become inaccessible likely because they have been forcibly shut down by the corresponding E-commerce marketplace for conducting fake transactions.
- Fake transaction
- Reputation manipulation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Computer Networks and Communications