FTC Shuts Down Fake Online News Sites
Have you seen the online ads for news stories supposedly examining the weight-loss benefits of acai berry supplements and similar products? Wondering whether they were true or not? Wonder no more.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has shut down the online marketing groups behind these ads, claiming they are meant to appear as if they belong to legitimate news-gathering organizations, but in reality the sites are simply advertisements aimed at deceptively enticing consumers to buy the featured acai berry weight-loss products.
The fake news sites had titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News,” and falsely represented that the reports had been seen on major media outlets, such as ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports.
An investigative-sounding headline on one such site proclaims “Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?” The sub-headline reads, “As part of a new series: ‘Diet Trends: A look at America’s Top Diets’ we examine consumer tips for dieting during a recession.” The article that follows purports to document a reporter’s first-hand experience with acai berry supplements – typically claiming to have lost 25 pounds in four weeks.
Reporters or commentators pictured on the sites are fictional and have not conducted the tests or experienced the results described in the reports, according to the FTC. Even the “responses” and “comments” following the reports are simply additional advertising content, not independent statements from ordinary consumers.
“Almost everything about these sites is fake,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The weight loss results, the so-called investigations, the reporters, the consumer testimonials, and the attempt to portray an objective, journalistic endeavor.”
For consumers, this is another lesson to be careful when shopping online. It's very important to know who you are buying from and what your recourse is if things don't work out as you expected. And like anywhere else, if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
And even if something is offered as a free trial, as some acai berry supplements were, there still reason to be cautious. Often you are signing up for a subscription plan that allows the marketer to begin billing you if you don't cancel within a short amount of time. Or, for the most deceptive marketers, they'll bill you anyway. To help you understand the risks of free trials and how to avoid unapproved charges, watch this video on Free Trial Scams from the FTC: