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Amazon tries to snuff out a bunch of Kindle publishing scams

The company files five legal actions against alleged scammers using the Kindle Direct Publishing platform.

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The Amazon Kindle Oasis.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon has been working for years to clean its sites of fake reviews and fake products. It's still got work to do.

The online retailer on Wednesday filed five separate legal actions through the American Arbitration Association to cut down on a variety of alleged scams used to make money on Amazon's Kindle self-publishing service, according to documents obtained by CNET.

"Today's news reflects yet another step in our ongoing efforts to protect readers and authors from individuals who violate our terms of service and manipulate programs readers and authors rely on," an Amazon spokesman said in a statement. 

He added that only a "small minority" of those using Kindle Direct Publishing engage in such scams.

Amazon since 2015 has been using these kinds of legal actions to fight against scams and already sued over 1,000 entities involved in allegedly creating fake product reviews on its sites. The company last year also sued alleged counterfeiters.

Its need to continue taking these legal steps points to how hard it can be to stamp out online scams, but also shows how difficult it now is for Amazon to police its enormous list of hundreds of millions of product pages. By taking legal action, Amazon may be hoping it can dissuade would-be scammers from coming to its site in the first place, making its job a little easier.

As part of Wednesday's filings, one alleged scammer used a novel approach to try making money through Amazon. The man named in the filing, Nilmer Rubio, of Olongapo City in the Philippines, allegedly reached out to authors who used the Kindle self-publishing platform and told them he could artificially inflate the number of pages customers read of their books in two Kindle programs. He apparently did this with the use of hundreds of Amazon accounts he created.

For both Kindle programs, Amazon divvies up royalties every month from a global pool of money, based on how many pages customers read of each book. Using Rubio's alleged system, authors could boost their royalties and Rubio would then get a cut of the higher payday.

In January, an author complained to Amazon after Rubio approached him and offered to take 40 percent of the profits from the scam, the filing said. Rubio didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In two other filings, Terrance Li of Ontario, Canada, and Alexis Pablo Marrocco of Argentina were accused of trafficking in fake book reviews. In Li's case, Amazon said it found 75 percent -- 1,471 of the 1,957 reviews -- associated with Li's how-to and learning books were "abusive" and were removed.

Marrocco in 2015 was accused of helping run a scam on Amazon, but told The Washington Post at the time he was following Amazon's rules. Li couldn't be reached for comment.

The last two filings, involving Thomas Glenn of Miami, Florida, and Jake Dryan of London, England, involved alleged scams to push books higher on best-seller lists. Dryan was also accused of "hyperlink abuse," a practice now blocked by Amazon in which an author includes in the first few pages of a book a hyperlink that will send readers to the end of a book. The scam helps artificially increase the number of pages read and therefore royalty payments.

Dryan declined to comment. Glenn couldn't be reached for comment.

Amazon is seeking roughly $440,000 in damages from Marrocco and nearly $100,000 from Li. It asked for up to $75,000 in damages from Glenn. It also wants damages in the other two cases, but didn't specify how much.

Amazon pursued these arbitration filings, an alternative system to resolve disputes without having to go to court, because the Kindle Direct Publishing terms and conditions require any disagreement involving that business must go through the arbitration association. 

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