I started out looking at the advertising and affiliate practices of one company, CreditReport America, and learned that the company that owns this site apparently produces a solid majority of the ads on the Web that annoy me.
Meet Just THINK Media of Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada, and their online empire of dubious products. Magic weight loss tea, free government grants, acai and red wine pills, colon cleanser, free credit reports…if there are incessant ads for it everywhere on the Web, they probably sell it.
Here’s how this all started. Last week, we published a story about apartment rental credit report scams that prey on innocent people searching for housing online. Quick summary: Scammers advertise nonexistent apartments, then tell prospective renters to go to a Web site for a purportedly free credit report, and pocket affiliate fees in the process.
Alert reader Phil looked up one of the credit report sites, CreditReport America, to let them know that an affiliate was generating business dishonestly. How seriously do they take the situation? His e-mail bounced. Not a temporary ISP outage bounce, either—the address email@example.com doesn’t even have a mailbox. It’s a breach of pretty basic protocol to not have an abuse@ email address set up for your site.
Phil found the address on the company’s advertising practices and FTC compliance page, which doesn’t explicitly forbid using fake real estate ads to earn affiliate fees. It does forbid spamming, so there’s that, and the apartment ads thing is probably unforeseen from the company’s point of view.
What’s funny, though, is the last paragraph on that page:
Proper advertising practice is at the top of our priority list, and we are therefore open to further improving our practices as reasonably requested by any one. All recommendations are taken very seriously, and are promptly reviewed by our advertising and legal department.
If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, and/or any other issues regarding our advertising practices we urge you to forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org for an immediate review.
Immediate review, yeah.
I noticed something interesting on the advertising practices page, though. The sample page showing their amazing reader-tracking technology isn’t the CreditReport America site. It shows an acai diet page—specifically, Acai Burn. Looking up domain registrations for CreditReport America and Acai Burn led me to Just THINK Media.
They have a very slick Web page, in Flash. According to their site, they are “quickly becoming the leader in online direct sales,” and have generated hundreds of millions of Google Adwords leads. Let’s peruse their products.
This is apparently their “flagship” product. The page doesn’t sell tea so much as the idea of thinness and the possibility of effortless weight loss. They’re a popular target on Ripoff Report, with 251 reports against them. The site has a bonus Asian dude giving a sales pitch in the corner. You know, because it’s a well-kept Chinese weight loss secret. Customers allege that the tea is nothing special, but just has extra caffeine in it, and doesn’t help with weight loss. Easy Weight Loss Tea is a similar site run by the same company.
Credit Report America
Yes, Credit Report America is based in Canada. Ha ha. We’ve already discussed at length on Consumerist why “free” credit report sites are bad. This is another one. Except that it has an old man in the corner who talks to you. Someone shut him up.
Government Funded Grants
Hey, it’s that grandfatherly white guy from the credit report site! I remember him! This site charges you for information on how to get U.S. government grants. You know, like on that site grants.gov. The one that’s free. Similar site: Gov Grants Direct.
The site’s sales pitch even cites our parent publication, Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports magazine has reported that they literally hear “hundreds and hundreds” of reports of various government grant related scams throughout the year. Many of these scams seem obvious – and yet people still keep falling for them, time and time again.
Effortless weight loss and bad Photoshopping? Sign me up. Similar to the Wu-Yi source site, and a pretty blond lady in a suit giving a sales pitch. We’ve been over this before. Don’t fall for acai diet scams. Acai Burn Extreme is the same thing, but marketed to men. Maybe it contains barbecue sauce.
Colon cleanser. We’ve talked about this—you don’t need to cleanse your colon unless a medical professional tells you to. Your body is set up to do that itself. This product is marketed as a weight loss aid, but there’s a random embedded video about colon cancer in there, intended to imply that CBS news endorses colon cleansing pills.
High-dose antioxidants derived from red wine. Or something. And some acai, too. Another “miracle” product to stop the aging process, help you lose weight, discipline your children, and balance your checkbook.
They also sell “Google cash kits” and home power plants, but I can’t find those particular sites. I think we get the idea.
After all, the company’s sites have a lot of common characteristics.
- They rely on affiliate marketing for sales—fake blogs, any way affiliates can get the links out there. High affiliate payouts are what led to the credit report scams featured here at Consumerist.
- The pages are very long. Too long, and repetitive. Lots of copy, lots of graphics, not enough disclaimers.
- The pages say “As seen on…” and show the logos of major media outlets. If you read the disclaimer, though, you learn that all this means is that the products have been advertised on those media outlets.
- Spokespeople appear on the pages and talk to you. They’re actors from Live Face on Web.
- All operate on the free trial or inexpensive introductory item model, and depend on customers to cancel their subscriptions, memberships, what have you. Customers complain that their cards continue receiving unauthorized charges for months afterward.
It’s not that Just THINK is trying to conceal their business model or that they own all of these sites. It’s not hard to put the clues together. It’s just fascinating to note the similarities between the sites, their pitches, and even their products. Sort of like window shopping in a strip mall where every store sells Amway.