The Federal Trade Commission has settled charges it brought against two marketing companies that were allegedly hawking shady weight loss products through a string of web sites that were pretending to be legitimate news organizations. “Legitimate news organizations do not endorse products,” FTC attorney Steven Wernikoff said.
Using phony endorsements for, among other things, acai berry and colon cleanser products, these sites duped thousands of consumers into signing up for what they thought would be “free trials.” Instead, the buyers found themselves with ongoing charges for unproven diet products. The fake endorsements received credibility boosts by appearing in advertising on legitimate news organization websites, Wernikoff said.
The FTC’s assault on this tactic began last year, when the agency received temporary restraining orders against 10 marketing companies that were using fake news sites. The ads were once so prevalent that French TV personality Melissa Theuriau’s face, used in many of the promotions (without her permission), became recognizable to millions in the U.S.
“I don’t think that the fight is over,” Wernikoff said. “We’re continuing our efforts to fight online marketing fraud.”
Of the 10 companies the FTC went after last year for using phony news sites to sell their shady products, eight have now settled. The settlement with IMM is the first between the FTC and a company that used affiliate marketing to spread the allegedly deceptive messages. The company agreed to no longer use fake news programming as a marketing tactic and is now required to police its network and make it obvious they are showing advertisements and not journalism.
Some examples of headlines that accompanied the fake newscasts include: “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News.” The FTC noted that the sites often claimed the reports had aired on major networks or ran in major publications. Eye-catching headlines such as “Acai Berry EXPOSED – Health Reporter Discovers the Shocking Truth” along with search-engine friendly content helped push a lot of traffic to the shady sites, said the FTC. That, in turn, drove consumers (many of whom later complained about the deception) to order the products.
Fake diet ads have long been a part of the underbelly of the Internet, with marketers using a variety of tactics to give their products the illusion of credibility. The common thread consumers are likely to see with these products is their promises of weight loss without effort, whether by wearing a magical belt, taking a supplement derived from an exotic plant or through a special drink that makes hunger go away.
Here are some claims diet product claims the FTC suggests consumers run away from:
- “Lose weight without diet or exercise!”
- “Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!”
- “Block the absorption of fat, carbs, or calories!”
- “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”
- “Everybody will lose weight!”
- “Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!”
There’s always going to be someone pitching the idea of gain without pain. Don’t buy it.