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Reviews for the Kindle Fire on Amazon.com run positive, but can you trust what others have to say?

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet — especially when it comes to reviews.

The New York Times reports this week that Amazon.com recently removed an online merchant from the site by the name of VIP Deals. The problem?  The merchant was offering customers a full rebate on its $10 leather Kindle Fire cases for those customers who wrote reviews on Amazon. Call it “Review-Gate.”

It worked like this: Customers who bought the leather case received a letter from VIP Deals upon delivery which indicated that they would received a rebate of $10 — the full cost of the case — for those who penned a review on Amazon.

Before the VIP Deals page was removed from Amazon, The New York Times reported that the company (with no Web site) had received 4,945 reviews with a rating of 4.9 out of five.

Reporter David Streitfeld writes:

By the time VIP Deals ended its rebateon Amazon.com late last month, its leather case for the Kindle Fire was receiving the sort of acclaim once reserved for the likes of Kim Jong-il. Hundreds of reviewers proclaimed the case a marvel, a delight, exactly what they needed to achieve bliss. And definitely worth five stars.

As the collective wisdom of the crowd displaces traditional advertising, the roaring engines of e-commerce are being stoked by favorable reviews. The VIP deal reflects the importance merchants place on these evaluations — and the lengths to which they go to game the system.

Fake or spammy reviews aren’t a new phenomenon on the Internet. In fact, Streitfeld reported last August in the Times about the problem, writing that “an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance.”

In many cases, individuals are simply paid to post favorable reviews — so-called “opinion spam” — for products or services found on sites such as Amazon.com, Yelp and TripAdvisor.

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