For years, the Federal Trade Commission has been combatting scammy marketers of weight-loss products who use fake news sites, fictional reporters, and bogus celebrity endorsements, but people keep trying to pull these cons on consumers. This morning, the FTC announced yet another takedown of a sketchy diet pill marketer using lookalike news sites to sell its products.
The FTC announced that it obtained a court order temporarily halting California-based Sale Slash and Purists Choice from peddling supposed weight-loss supplements; a first step in recovering funds lost by consumers who purchased the company’s products.
According to the FTC complaint [PDF], since at least 2012 the companies used affiliate marketers to deceptively advertise and sell a variety of weight-loss supplements including Premium Green Coffee, Pure Garcinia Cambogia, Premium White Kidney Bean Extract, Pure Forskolin Extract, and Pure Caralluma Fimbriata Extract.
The hired marketers routinely sent illegal spam emails and posted banner ads online that led consumers to fake news sites designed to appear as if an independent consumer reported, rather than a paid advertiser, had reviewed and endorsed the products.
The FTC alleges that these fake news sites made false weight-loss claims and used phony celebrity endorsements – including one from Oprah – to promote the diet pills.
Much like previous fake news sites used photos of French newswoman Mélissa Theuriau for their fake “Staff Reporter Helen Hasman,” the example above uses an image of BBC news presenter Ellie Crisell for the fictional “Staff Reporter Helen Crisell.” In fact, the real Crisell has not only repeatedly warned her Twitter followers about this fakery, her Twitter profile now clearly states “I DO NOT endorse any weight loss pills!”
Marketers allegedly used stolen email user accounts to send the users’ contacts spam messages so that the emails looked to be from a friend or family member instead of the company’s affiliates.
The emails typically contained short messages such as, “Breaking news…” or “Hi! Oprah says it’s excellent,” followed by hyperlinks to the products.
Banner ads used by the marketers generally including claims such as “1 Tip for a tiny belly,” “Cut down on a bit of your belly every day following this 1 old weird tip,” and “Garcinia Cambogia Exposed – Miracle Diet or Scam?”
Each time a consumer clicked the banner through to one of the fake news sites and purchased the supplement, Sale Slash and Purists Choice paid the marketer a commission, according to the FTC.
In addition to halting the operation of Sale Slash and Purists Choice, the court order freezes their assists and appoints a temporary receiver. The FTC ultimately seeks to recover funds from the companies that would be used to provide refunds to consumers who were duped into purchasing the supposed weight-loss supplements.
FTC Halts Deceptive Marketing of Bogus Weight-Loss Products [Federal Trade Commission]