FTC to Start Cracking Down on Fake News Sites

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Yes, the FTC is finally getting around to shutting down the fake news websites. I’m sure you’ve seen at least one or two in your travels. These sites are designed to look like local news publications. The only problem is, the organization doesn’t exist and all of the information they are giving to you is false.

While it’s good they’re starting to crack down, I have two major issues:

  1. They’re about a year and a half too late.
  2. They’re only focusing on fake weight loss scams for now.

As it stands, there are exact replicas of these fake news sites out there with work at home scams instead of weight loss scams that are exempt from the FTC crackdown. I’m happy that they are starting to take a stand, but I wish they’d hurry up and target work at home scams as well.

FTC Seeks to Halt 10 Operators of Fake News Sites

The FTC writes…

he Federal Trade Commission is requesting federal courts to temporarily halt the allegedly deceptive tactics of 10 operations using fake news websites to market acai berry weight-loss products. The FTC seeks to permanently stop this misleading practice and has asked courts to freeze the operations’ assets pending trial.

According to the FTC, the defendants operate websites that 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 from other merchants.

The FTC complaints allege that typical fake news sites have titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News.” The sites often include the names and logos of major media outlets – such as ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports – and falsely represent that the reports on the sites have been seen on these networks. 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.

“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.”

The Illinois Attorney General’s office is announcing an additional case against an affiliate marketer using fake news websites to promote acai berry weight-loss products.

The FTC will ask the courts to permanently bar the allegedly deceptive claims, and to require the companies to provide money for refunds to consumers who purchased the supplements and other products. The FTC charges that the defendants:

  • make false and unsupported claims that acai berry supplements will cause rapid and substantial weight loss;
  • deceptively represent that:
    • their websites are objective news reports;
    • independent tests demonstrate the effectiveness of the product, and
    • comments following the “articles” on their websites reflect the views of independent consumers; and
  • fail to disclose their financial relationships to the merchants selling the products.

The Federal Trade Commission has a new consumer alert to help consumers recognize and avoid deceptive claims made by fake news sites that market acai berries for weight loss. It also has a new video detailing the risks of free trials, which often are used to market acai berry supplements and other products.

According to the FTC complaints, in pitching the acai weight-loss products, the defendants post attention-grabbing ads on search engines and high volume websites, such as “Acai Berry EXPOSED – Health Reporter Discovers the Shocking Truth,” driving traffic to the fake news sites and ultimately to the sites where merchants sell the products. The FTC has received numerous complaints from consumers who paid between $70 and $100 for weight-loss products after having been deceived by fake news sites

Click here to read the full article

As always, be sure to submit any scams you come across to FTC’s Complaint Assistant. Your complaints do not go unnoticed. They are used to help build cases against scammers and help victims get their money back.

So good work so far FTC, but please, shut down the fake news sites used by work at home scammers too.

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2 Comments

  1. Hope they go after these SCAM ‘Credit Card Consolidate Debts’ callers too that will not say any company name and only say it’s Account Services. They have no information on you , but claim to be able to consolidate your credit card debts. They must have swamp land for sale too.

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  2. I’m still reading through the actual legal documents as there’s some great insight in them as to how the FTC thinks in terms of “net impression” to consumers (i.e. it seems doubtful that just having “advertorial” at the top when the fake news sites still have the fake blog comments is “OK”).

    Plus there’s some interesting points in there suggesting again that the FTC is more willing than ever before to go after the gatekeepers of fraud – the affiliate networks, advertising agencies, JV Brokers, affiliates, etc. Nothing’s going to STOP completely, but going after the gatekeepers and trying to minimize the facilitation of fraud through the main distribution channels definitely seems MUCH more effective than merely going after the owners of the products.

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