Would you buy a skin care or weight-loss product from Dr. Oz, Sandra Bullock, Christie Brinkley, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, Ivanka Trump, The Rock, or Shark Tank panelist Mark Cuban? Hundreds of thousands of consumers thought they did after purchasing products online from fake websites and pop-up ads that claimed celebrities were behind the supplements and wrinkle creams that were marketed as “free samples.” Not only were the products not free (consumers who ordered samples were swiftly charged a reoccurring $90 monthly subscription fee), but they also weren’t endorsed by celebrities.
The marketers used celebrity photos, fake quotes and websites with misleading URLs like goodhousekeepingtoday.com, menshealth.com–i.link and womenshealthi.com to lure customers in. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the marketers made more than $179 million over the last five years from unsuspecting consumers who were deceptively made to believe the famous faces in the ads were behind the products being sold.
“A vast network of online marketers and the three people behind it have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they sold more than 40 weight-loss, muscle-building and wrinkle-reduction products to consumers using unsubstantiated health claims, fake magazine and news sites, bogus celebrity endorsements, and phony consumer testimonials,” read a statement from the FTC. “The FTC also alleges that the defendants used deceptive offers of ‘free’ and ‘risk-free’ trials, and automatically enrolled consumers without their consent in negative option auto-ship programs with additional monthly charges.” The defendants agreed to pay a portion of the profits made, $6.4 million-dollars, to settle with the Commission and are prohibited from using deceptive tactics again to promote any product online in the future.
Many of the stars, like NCIS‘ Pauley Perrette, Fixer Upper‘s Joanna Gaines and The View‘s Whoopi Goldberg, whose name and likeness were used in the ads, have spoken out against the alleged scammers long before the FTC’s ruling. In response to news, The View stars Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar recently shared their thoughts on the whole being used as unauthorized endorsers for products they never agreed to promote. “I’m hoping that Joy will get a piece of that [settlement],” joked Whoopi. “It’s not your skin cream. It’s not hers and it was never hers!”