In a recent win for consumers, the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on fake new sites promoting Acai Berry weight loss products. The affiliate marketing network behind these schemes will be forced to shut down and pay a $1.6 million settlement.
Remember HCG Ultra Drops and the RaspDiet (aka Raspberry Ketone or Raspberry Ultra Drops)? In case you’ve forgotten, each of these diet products have been tied to fake news sites spoofing Fox News Health and other mainstream media outlets. Hundreds of Scambook users alleged that these weight loss products hacked their Facebook or email accounts with a link to pages like this:
Unless you’re looking very closely, “Raspberry Ultra Drops to Help Your Weight Drop” appears to be a legitimate, objective news story.
It’s actually a marketing scheme intended to fool consumers — after all, you’d be more likely to believe weight loss claims from a trustworthy news source than an advertisement. We’ve heard from Scambook users who wouldn’t have purchased HCG Ultra, Acai Berry or Raspberry Ketone/Raspberry Ultra if they hadn’t been fooled by one of these fake news sites.
Thankfully, at least one group of fake news sites won’t be tricking consumers anymore. In a recent press release, the Federal Trade Commission announced that they have “Permanently [Stopped] Fake News Website Operator that Allegedly Deceived Consumers about Acai Berry Weight-Loss Products.”
No More Acai Ultraberry Diet Fake News
In a 10-case sweep against allegedly deceptive online advertising, the FTC has brought a $1.6 million dollar settlement against Beony International, an affiliate marketing network behind Acai Berry products and other weight loss supplements. According to the announcement, this will permanently halt their operations.
In its cases against these 10 schemes, the FTC alleged that their websites were designed to appear as if they were part of legitimate news organizations, but were actually nothing more than advertisements deceptively enticing consumers to buy acai berry weight-loss products featured in the “news reports.” With titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News,” the sites often falsely represented that the reports they carried had been seen on major media outlets such as ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports. Investigative-sounding headlines presented stories that purported to document a reporters’ first-hand experiences with acai berry supplements – typically claiming to have lost 25 pounds in four weeks, according to the FTC complaints.
Additionally, the settlement bars the defendants from “further deceptive claims about any product or service, including the acai berry weight-loss supplements, colon cleansers, teeth whiteners, work-at-home plans, and surplus auctions that they marketed.”
Additional Brands Affected by FTC Settlement
In addition to Acai Ultraberry, the FTC named over two dozen other products allegedly sold online through deceptive fake news marketing schemes. They include:
Acai Berry and Other ‘Diet’ Pills
Acai Ultra Lean
LeanSpa with Pure HCA
Super Acai 1200
South Beach Java
Brite White Smile
Pür Whitening Tray Kit
Vibrant Smile Pen
Robert Allen’s Multiple Streams of Income Course
Home Income Profit System
Home Income Wealth System
More Fake News Sites May Still Be Out There
While this recent settlement may have shut down Acai Berry sites and their affiliates, it’s likely that other fake news sites will continue to appear and deceive consumers. As we know, fraudsters are always adapting and finding new ways to circumvent the law.
If you can’t tell whether a news article about a product is real or if it’s an advertisement in disguise, look for these signs:
What’s the domain? If it’s a Fox News Health page hosted at anything other than www.foxnews.com, especially if the URL is extremely long and randomized, it’s probably a hoax. After all, Fox News is a major media outlet. Why would they have a story anywhere on the internet except www.foxnews.com? The same goes for CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Consumer Reports or any other outlet.
Links on the page don’t work, or if they do, they send you to the product order form. If this was really Fox News online, you would be able to read other articles or click on Facebook links in the comments. (However, some phishing websites are so sophisticated that the links to other content will work, so this isn’t always a dead giveaway.)
The news page uses too many stock images and graphics of the product. Often, you can also spot a fake news ad from a real news story by comparing the mockup site with the real thing. Visit www.foxnews.com in a new browser and do a side-by-side comparison with the suspect page.
Are the claims too good to be true? Finally, think about the claims in the “article.” We’d all love to lose ten pounds in a week without changing our diets or exercising, but unfortunately, that’s just not realistic. As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Share Your Thoughts
What do you think about the FTC’s crackdown on fake news sites? Have you ever used a “miracle” diet product that worked? Share your thoughts in the comments.