Are Web sites using made up News Reports considered a form of Misleading Advertising?
You are surfing the Internet and a report that looks like a “US World News Report” pops up. You look around the page and see logos like CNN, MSNC, Fox News and the like on the news report. The “News Flash” claims a great new product will flatten your belly or gives you unbelievable deals of popular items like IPods and computers at 90 percent off retail. So you click further and find the “News Flash” leads you to a web site offering a free trial or a video telling you items sold are cheap because they come from police auctions or overstock warehouses. You are asked to supply your personal details to continue. Then, you are asked to provide your credit card information. You forget to look at the fine print stating you will be charged a membership fee or are going to be automatically billed monthly to continue to receive the product. Later down the road, you find your credit card has been dinged repeatedly. To get out of the deal requires you to submit a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and even be forced to cancel your credit card.
Here are two cases in point. If you go here, you will find the following website:
Look carefully and notice the themes. They are:
· Logos of recognizable brands like CNN and the Globe and Mail
· A feel of a News Reporter doing an objective review
· A Free trail being offered. Read the fine print and you will quickly see how free this trial actually is.
If you click further, you will end up at this website:
Other sites like Swipe Auctions are using the same methods to bring in the customers. Have a look at this web site and notice similar themes as the previous examples. You will see the “News” look and have major recognized logos endorsing the “News Flash.” Also, you will see a picture of a “news reporter” doing her “objective review” of the product. As usual, she is quite attractive.
If you click further, you will end up here. You will again see recognizable logos like NBC. You get the feeling that the site is being endorsed all over the place by reputable organizations.
The fact is this type of “News Report” marketing works and is NOT illegal. At least, I couldn't find any place from my research that claims using News Reports for advertising illegal. However, people are under the impression the site they are going to has been endorsed by major brand names and objective news reporting when in fact that may not be the case. If you do read the “fine print”, you will see disclaimers telling you that these brands and "news reports" may in fact not be endorsing their product or service and may be an "Advertorial."
These “News Report themes” have been investigated by W5, an Investigative News agency in Canada. For copyright reasons, we can only give you the link. However, if you have 20 minutes to spare, it is definitely an eye-opening video and very well produced. A shorter report is located here and gives you a good summary of the issues.
The key question is should “News Reports” leading you to believe you are getting credible information be legal? In my opinion, this type of advertising certainly is not ethical. Some may even say this is misleading advertising. However, these approaches do bring in the credit card numbers resulting in a revenues windfall for the company.
In my opinion, this type of advertising also harms credible news organizations like CNN, FOX, MSNBC and the like as their logos are attached to the advertising. We, as the audience lose some trust in what they are reporting after we believe we have been duped into a product or service thinking it was endorsed in some way by them.
So, what do we do to protect ourselves from this form of advertising?
1. Look at the URL at the top. If the URL does not link to a major news source like CNN.com, you have a right to be suspicious.
2. Click on the advertising located in the “News Report” to get the URL location of the company or web site. For example, if you go to merchandisenews.net you will be invited to click on to swipe auctions. Do a Google search on the website before buying anything. If you research the web site address, and type in key words like “review”, “scam” and “complaints”, you may get some information on what other peoples’ experiences were who already dealt with the company.
3. Go to the Better Business Bureau and type in the website URL to see if there are any complaints on file. If you don’t see the web address on file, email the Better Business Bureau and ask them to look into the company. This will help gain a permanent record on the company’s past dealings with the web business.
4. If you suspect the web site is fraudulent, contact the FBI Internet Crime Division. They will keep a file on the suspicious web site and look into it further. It is always the right thing to do to try to protect others.
5. Put a chain on your credit card. Hand over your credit card information over the Internet very sparingly. Always check the company you wish to deal with by doing Google searches first. If you do receive an unauthorized credit card charge, contact your bank immediately, file a dispute and deactivate your card so no more charges pop up on your statement.
Unfortunately, the Internet is still a place where scammers flourish. The only way to protect yourself from a scam is to do your research before you buy anything online. Next time you see that breaking news report or world news reports, double check it. You will be glad you did!