Tags: Dr. Mehmet Oz | fake celebrity ads

Dr. Oz: Time to Pull the Plug on Fake Celebrity Ads

Dr. Oz: Time to Pull the Plug on Fake Celebrity Ads

Dr. Mehmet Oz (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

By    |   Sunday, 28 January 2018 05:07 PM

The Federal Trade Commission has slapped a San Diego-based company with an unprecedented $179 million settlement for allegedly using deceptive internet ads and bogus celebrity endorsements to bilk consumers out of tens of millions of dollars.

As part of the settlement, the firm, Tarr, Inc., is banned from future deceptive trade practices, including hoodwinking customers into ordering "free trials" and then charging their credit card ad infinitum.

Beyond the fraudulent representation of celebrity endorsements, the FTC said many advertisers' claims – an anti-wrinkle cream that promises to make you look 10 years younger in 30 days, for example – were either unproven or demonstrably false.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the host of "The Dr. Oz Show," explained to Newsmax in an exclusive interview he's been trying to shut down the celebrity-endorsement scams for years now.

"Your honor and trust are your lifeblood," says Oz. "People either believe that you do the right thing, or don't.

"And then people start writing you letters that say, 'Doctor Oz, why would you do this sort of thing? Why would you hurt me like this?' And not only that, but 'Dr. Oz, you took my credit card and now you're charging me.' It's intolerable."

Oz says that scammers typically hide behind a network of websites, affiliate networks and fulfillment companies. The big problem, he says, is just identifying who they are.

The FTC states the fake sites "had mastheads for what appeared to be legitimate news and journal organizations, including Men's Health, Good Housekeeping and Everyday with Dr. Oz. The sites feature reporters and celebrities like Paula Deen, Dr. Oz, Jennifer Aniston and Jason Statham, who supposedly used the products themselves and experienced dramatic results."

None of those celebrities had endorsed the products being sold, however.

The number of online scams appears to be staggering. The FTC has sued dozens of companies whose sales pitches masqueraded as news reports or legitimate journalism about weight-loss supplements, muscle-building formulas, anti-aging creams and more. A few companies have been shut down, but it's just the tip of the con-artist iceberg.

According to the FTC, scammers often maintain parallel "decoy websites" that display proper consumer notices and advisories, including how to stop unwanted credit card charges. These are the sites they show to banks, payment processors and regulators. But consumers clicking on ads are sent to different sites that lack those notices, they say.

Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and professor at Columbia University, applauded the big FTC settlement. But he says using fake celebrity endorsements to bilk consumers will continue, unless powerful internet companies like Facebook and Google offer full transparency.

"They won't release the names of the people who run ads," says Oz, "because they don't want to have any responsibility for their supply chain."

Among the recent Internet scams involving bogus celebrity endorsements, according to Snopes.com:

  • An anti-aging cream that prevents wrinkles supposedly endorsed by Priscilla Chan, the pediatrician and wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
  • An anti-aging serum said to be backed by reality TV star Joanna Gains of the HGTV "Fixer Upper" series.
  • A moisturizer falsely said to be promoted by Jill Rhodes, the wife of conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity, as a "plastic surgery alternative."
  • A skin cream said to be endorsed by Pauley Perrette of NCIS TV series fame.

"These are false ads, totally false," Perrette told Snopes, adding, "These ghost companies are ripping off my fans and I'm upset about it."

Oz's name and reputation were falsely attached to several bogus ads.

"I don't sell any supplements," he says, "I don't have a face-cream line, so you're not taking my money. But you are taking my pride and my currency, which is trust."

The scams have even duped other celebrities, he says.

"Lester Holt of CBS came to my house for a shoot we were doing, and he said, 'Can I ask you a question? Why do you do the ads like this? Don't you think that there's a more tasteful way?' He was trying to be helpful. I said, 'Did you Google me on the way over here?'"

Holt nodded and Oz explained the endorsements were completely bogus.
"His jaw dropped," Oz says.

A few years ago, Oz grew so frustrated with being linked to skeevy products he hired a team of investigators to track down the culprits. All roads led back to Tarr, the same San Diego-based company recently sanctioned by the FTC.

Oz decided to take a camera crew to visit the company, and knocked on their corporate office. The dramatic videos of his encounters demanding they stop using his name to sell products he'd never endorsed are posted on his website.

"The part I love the most," he recalls, "is these people called the police on me!"

When the police arrived, Oz explained he was just there to ask why they were stealing his name to dupe consumers out of their money. The officers ended up posing with him for pictures.

Oz warns that unless major internet firms provide transparency regarding the firms profiting off of specific sites and ads, the scamming will only get worse.

Fake ads and fake news, he notes, played a major role in the controversy over Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Unless the companies step forward and act, he says, Congress will have no choice but to hand the job over to ham-fisted federal regulators ill-equipped to keep up with a fast-changing internet. Oz doesn't want that to happen, but says something must be done.

He concedes such transparency could be a big headache for internet firms, reducing their profits while increasing their liability for the ads they run. But without that step, he predicts they'll eventually undermine their own business model.

Google and Facebook both pointed Newsmax to their written policies forbidding fraudulent ads. But Oz says that's not enough: He insists they need to hand over information about companies that use their platforms to hawk celebrity-endorsed products.

"Google and Facebook have refused to provide any information about who is producing these ads," he says. "The only way to get them is to sue them, and subpoena to get the records – and who is going to do that?

"I have 11 million people who follow me on social media, I have seven million on Facebook. I'm not going to shoot myself in the foot by suing them. So, there's no way to learn who's running these fake ads – I can't go after them.

"Help me to help myself," he says. "That's the big key here."

Asked if he thinks 2018 could be the year America's celebrities finally get their good names back, Oz says: "I'll keep my fingers crossed."

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The Federal Trade Commission has slapped a San Diego-based company with an unprecedented $179 million settlement for allegedly using deceptive internet ads and bogus celebrity endorsements to bilk consumers out of tens of millions of dollars. As part of the settlement, the...
Dr. Mehmet Oz, fake celebrity ads
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2018-07-28
Sunday, 28 January 2018 05:07 PM
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