Curious About Fake Web Ads

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent

BOSTON (CBS) – It was an ad on the Internet that sounded too good to be true, but Richard Morse from Rowley was intrigued about a teeth whitening product because it featured a testimonial from a local woman.

But he did some checking on the woman and then Declared His Curiosity to WBZ-TV.

He asked, “When will this scam be stopped? ‘Liz’, an ordinary mom from Rowley discovered how to get a celebrity smile for a little over $4.00. I live in Rowley and no one knows her, or the local dentist who was going to charge her $500.”

Richard ordered the same products “Liz” vouched for, but felt misled when all kinds of charges started appearing on his credit card bill.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports

Increasingly frustrated, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I blew up this picture of “Liz” on the Internet and printed it out,” he said.

Then he took it all over his small town.

“I went to the local diner. I went to the town clerk who knows everyone. I went to the post office, and I went to the local dentists and found no one that recognizes her,” he added.

So does “Liz” from Rowley really exist?

WBZ reached out to the teeth whitening companies associated with her testimonial and couldn’t get an answer from them.

The Federal Trade Commission is pretty clear when it comes to personal testimonials. They have to be honest and fairly represent the product.

In other words, outlandish promises are not allowed.

Edgar Dworsky of found some odd testimonials for web sites promoting contests for free iPads and iPhones just for participating in a survey.

It caught his eye when one of those ‘real people’ claimed to be from Somerville, his hometown.

As he checked further, he found many dubious characters.

At one point, one woman was identified as being from Los Angeles, but then her hometown changed to Somerville too. The original man who was from Somerville then came up as hailing from Los Angeles.

Dworsky doesn’t believe this is an accident, but that these companies play a sophisticated game of identifying where your IP address originates.

They hope this will increase the appeal of the ad and make you more likely to participate.

One site clearly wanted participants to give their cell phone numbers.

If you read the fine print, you see why.

Just by participating in the survey, you are agreeing to a bunch of extra services on your phone. The charge can go as high as $20 a month.

“There have been cases where you give your cell phone number and all of a sudden you find charges crammed into your cell phone for services you never wanted,” explained Dworsky.

It can be very difficult to cancel these cell services or a trial offer on one of these products.

Often, you have to contact your mobile phone provider or your credit card holder to intervene.


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