FTC moves on fake new sites that co-opt major media brands


A cottage industry exists on the internet – “news” websites that exist primarily to market acai berry weight-loss products. To provide the illusion of legitimacy, these sites often use logos from major media outlets such as Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports. FTC is asking federal courts to shut the sites down, at least temporarily.

According to the FTC, the sites strive to appear as though they are actual news outlets, but in reality they are simply marketing tools. It has targeted 10 such operations.

The FCC allegations charge that the sites take the logos of legitimate news operations and “falsely represent that the reports on the sites have been seen on these networks.”

“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.”

FTC says the operations make false and unsupported claims that acai berry supplements will cause rapid   and substantial weight loss;

Further, they 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 FTC says numerous complaints have come in from consumers bilked out of sums running from $70-$100.

FTC added, “Reporters or commentators pictured on the sites are fictional and have not conducted the tests or experienced the results described in the reports, the FTC alleges. The ‘responses’ and ‘comments’ following the reports are simply additional advertising content, not independent statements from ordinary consumers.  The defendants receive commissions when consumers buy the products or sign up for ‘free trials’ on the product-selling sites – but they fail to adequately disclose their lack of objectivity and their financial incentive to get consumers to buy the products. According to the FTC, the defendants collectively have paid more than $10 million to advertise their fake news sites, and have likely received well in excess of that amount in ill-gotten commissions.”

The FTC is seeking restraining orders in six different courts.