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Online savvy.

Ever notice those tiny ads for "miracle" supplements or "revolutionary" pills that appear at the margins of almost every Web page you visit? They're the tip of a multi-million-dollar iceberg. Here's what's often below the surface.

You see them everywhere on the Internet these days--small two- and three-line ads offering "revolutionary" or "shocking" discoveries or "easy" or "weird" tips to make your belly fat disappear, your life happier, your joints lubricated, your muscles bigger and stronger (see page 9).

Google and its competitors have made it easy for anyone to advertise on thousands of Web sites, from national publications with millions of readers like Time and The Washington Post to obscure blogs with a few dozen followers.

While those small ads help support legions of Web sites that would struggle or die without them, and while many of the ads are for legitimate products and services, neither the Web sites nor the networks that distribute the ads do enough to keep an alarming number of shameless exaggerations and deceptive offers out of the mix.

Trust Us

As the scammers try to keep one step ahead of the cyber cops, Internet frauds continue to evolve.

First came fake blogs, with their personal endorsements vouching for the wonders of acai berry weight-loss pills, colon cleansers, and other "miracle" products.

One example: The "Lisa ... from California" with "2 kids and a wonderful husband" at lisaweightlossblog.com who lost 16 pounds after taking Acai Berry and Colon Cleanse is black. The "Lisa ... from California" with "2 kids and a wonderful husband" at virtually identical lisasfitnessguide.com/blog who lost 27 pounds after taking Lean Slim Ultra and Lean Slim Cleanse is white.

Then came "consumer news" sites like news24-online.com, in which a "skeptical" reporter "uncovers the truth" and "exposes" the claims behind Internet ads ("The Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?"). But the sites were (and still are) just trying to sell people the same worthless pills, cleansers, and other products.

Last April, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shut down 10 of the worst offenders. "Nearly everything about these sites is fake," it charged.

The latest scam: "review" sites that purport to evaluate which supplements work best. Take dietpillsforwomen.org, which touts itself as "Your Source For Unbiased Reviews of Diet Pills For Women."

Unbiased? Unless you click on the tiny "Disclosure" link at the bottom of the page, you'd never know that dietpillsforwomen.org claims no accuracy for its reviews, that the site is paid commissions on the pills it reviews and sells, and that the site's reviews "may be perceived as a conflict of interest."

Willms Web

If you got suckered into buying acai berry weight-loss pills, colon cleansers, "free" credit reports, teeth whiteners, or other dubious Internet offers, you may have fallen into the web of Jesse Willms, 24, of Edmonton, Canada.

Last May, the FTC accused Willms of bilking consumers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia out of more than $450 million.

Willms, the FTC charged, deceived millions of online shoppers with "free" or "risk-free" offers, then charged their credit cards recurring monthly fees--typically $79.95--that were difficult to cancel.

Willms denies the allegations and insists that his business practices were "compliant with the law."

Before the FTC came after him, Willms was sued by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz for using their names and pictures, without permission, to sell dietary supplements. Before that, he was successfully sued by Microsoft and several other companies for selling counterfeit software.

Click & Quack

Of course, not all supplements sold on the Internet are out-and-out scams. Take the four products on page 9. Each has at least a hint of evidence that it works. Or that one of its ingredients works. Or that one of its ingredients sort of works. Or that ...

How to Avoid an Online Fleecing

* Ignore the pedigree. Don't trust an ad just because it appears on the Web site of a major newspaper or other reputable outlet. Most sites sell their space to ad networks and don't know what ads they're running.

* Don't fall for before-and-after photos. The shapes and looks of the people in the photos can easily be manipulated with computer software. And the earnest-looking physicians and scientists in the ads are probably models.

* Beware of "free" trials. They're often the company's way of signing you up for a "negative option." That means your credit card is automatically charged for monthly deliveries of the product unless you contact the company to cancel (which some operators make next to impossible to do).

* Don't blindly trust "review" Web sites, They're often run by "affiliate marketers" who steer you to their own products or to products on which they receive commissions.

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* Look for the disclosure. Sites that receive commissions on products they recommend are supposed to let visitors know.

* Don't buy without a street address, A Web site that has only a toll-free number or e-mail address could be offshore and out of reach if there's a problem.

* Check for complaints that other online consumers may have lodged against the product on legitimate Web sites like complaintsboard.com, complaints.com, and ripoffreport.com.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL FEATURE; on being smart about online advertisements
Author:Schardt, David
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
Words:863
Previous Article:Behind the scenes.
Next Article:Instaprofit.
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