FTC Announces Crackdown On Fake News Sites Selling Weight Loss Products

The Federal Trade Commission announced a major crackdown against a number of sites using the appearance of a news site to promote acacia berry weight loss products. "The FTC seeks to permanently stop this misleading practice and has asked courts to freeze the operations' assets pending trial," the FTC website stated.

Ten 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" were being sued by the FTC.

The 'reporters' claim to have done independent studies of the products and found them to work. They also claim legitimate news sources support their findings and in some cases that they are affiliated with CBS, NBC, Fox and CNN.

The sites are from all over the country - a list can be found at the FTC website.

"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," the FTC stated.

"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."

Many of the sites are affiliates of the acacia berry vendors - using their sites to get people to click through to the vendor and purchase the products for which they get a commission.

About the author

Frank Watson has been involved with the Web since it started. For the past five years, he headed SEM for FXCM -- at one time one of the top 25 spenders with AdWords. He has worked with most of the major analytics companies and pioneered the ability to tie online marketing with offline conversion.

He has now started his own marketing agency, Kangamurra Media. This new venture will keep him busy when he is not editing the Search Engine Watch forums, blogging at a number of authoritative sites, and developing some interesting online community sites.

He was one of the first 100 AdWords Professionals, a Yahoo and Overture Ambassador, and a member or mod of many of the industry forums. He is also on the Click Quality Council and has worked hard to diminish click fraud.