Although the actual process of tracking down the evidence doesn't follow this sequence and is actually much more complicated, the easiest way to see what's going on is to start where it all actually begins: fiverr.com
This particular link leads to the profile page of a fiverr reviewer who goes by the handle "faceitfacts."
Here's a screen shot of the profile page for one of his "gigs."
In case you can't see it too clearly, here's a close-up of his profile description from the lower right hand corner:
Please note in particular that little blue splashy graphic avatar. You'll see it again.
Let's take a look at a book that on Amazon seems to have attracted a lot of 5-star reviews from a lot of familiar reviewer names recently: Ralph Smith's book, Seal of the King.
Here's a screen shot of the #1 review on that book on Amazon.com. (as of 13 July 2014) with 73/73 helpful votes. (Amazon helpful/unhelpful votes can be purchased on fiverr, too, by the way, along with reviews.)
If we go to the profile of Amazon reviewer "Pat" we find this:
Yes, that splashy blue avatar again. And like fiverr reviewer "faceitfacts," Amazon reviewer "Pat" is Canadian. And he has an interest in children's books. Of course, it's not conclusive, smoking gun evidence, but these are a number of rather striking coincidences. So, shall we continue to follow where it leads?
Here's the link to Pat's OLD profile page, just to make it easy for you to follow along:
You'll see that (at the moment) Pat has 246 reviews. And he has a wish list! Scroll down to that wish list. Oh, look, he has a bunch of Pat Hatt children's books on his wish list! Pat Hatt is a Canadian author of children's books.
Well, why not just click on that wish list and see what else he has on it:
Oh, my goodness! It appears that Amazon reviewer "Pat" may in fact actually be Canadian children's book author Patrick Hatt.
But Pat Hatt isn't just an Amazon reviewer. He's also a Goodreads member, reviewer, and author.
And you can go right here
to see where Pat Hatt posted his review of Ralph Smith's Seal of the King, and it's identical to Pat's review at Amazon.
There is also evidence to suggest faceitfacts/Pat/Pat Hatt is also a fiverr customer. Here's one of his testimonials to the fiverr reviewer "amylovesbooks" for the great reviews he paid her to give him:
Now you can go back to that link to Amazon reviewer Pat's profile and look at all the 246 books and videos and other items he has reviewed, all the stuff he has rated 5 stars, as well as all the reviews -- both those he's written and those he's received on his own books -- on Goodreads, and you can wonder along with the rest of us which ones were honest reviews and which were just . . . paid for commercials.
I think you've got some idea of just how difficult it is to track down all this information. Sometimes it's a chance recognition of an avatar or a line in a review that sounds amazingly familiar. This one was a little less difficult to reconstruct because the name is the same between Amazon and Goodreads. But sometimes it's just a lucky hunch that plays out after a bunch of unlucky ones don't.
Readers get cheated by this all the time, either out of their money or out of their time. The algorithms that determine what books are "recommended" and which ones aren't are based on reviews and upvotes and everything else that now appears all to be purchased. And no one seems to be doing anything to stop it. Not Amazon. Not Goodreads.
And readers, the ones who are asked to give their money and time to the authors and their books, aren't allowed to say anything at all.