Always read the fine print or risk paying the price when being tempted by ads on social networking sites
Chicago, IL – April 7, 2009 – The Better Business Bureau is advising social networkers to read the fine print when responding to ads on Facebook or other social networking sites because the large print doesn’t always tell the whole story. Ubiquitous ads for weight loss products and work-at-home opportunities can cost shoppers more than they bargained for in the long run.
“People need to use extreme caution and read the fine print before handing over their credit card information to an online advertiser. Just because an ad appears on a Web site they trust, it doesn’t mean they can always trust the advertisers,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.
One of the big red flags we’re seeing are ads that link to blog platforms designed to look like a personal testimonial from a satisfied customer. In our experience, if an ad takes you to a blog, it’s best to hit the back button immediately.
“I ordered through the internet for the free sample for $4.95. I got the product along with some gum and oil that I had not ordered and I was billed $40.00. I tried to contact the company to return it but I got no response to my e-mails and kept getting an automated message... I had to cancel my credit card. I was lucky, though. I filed my complaint with the BBB and they were able to get me a refund minus a $15.00 restocking fee,” said Cindy Pearson, a victim of the scam.
Following are just a couple examples of common ads on social networking sites and what the fine print reveals:
The Pitch: Lose 4 Dress Sizes
In January, BBB issued a warning to consumers about online ads and Web sites that use Oprah’s name to sell acai berry supplements as weight-loss miracles. Despite the warning, these ads are still common on Facebook and MySpace and link to fake blogs such as www.jennylosesweight.com that are designed to look like testimonials of women who lost weight on the acai supplements. Recent research by the Center for Science in the Public Interest identified more than 75 different phony blogs that led to Web sites touting acai-berry supplements as a weight loss miracle.
“I saw the ad on the internet but did not see anywhere where it said that I would get more than one package. I got one package and was billed three times. I had to cancel my entire bank account to avoid more charges. I still owe my bank $75.00 in overdraft fees on top of the charges,” said Penny Kofoed, another victim of this scam.
The Fine Print: The phony blogs link to Web sites that offer a free trial of an acai supplement, and while the customer may think they only have to pay shipping, they could get billed as much as $87.13 every month if they don’t cancel before the trial period ends. The fine print also explains that the trial period begins from the moment the customer orders the supplements and not after they receive the shipment.
BBB Warns: Not only do health experts question the legitimacy of the weight loss claims linked to the acai berry, BBB has received ongoing complaints from consumers against acai supplement companies because many were billed despite never receiving their free trial or were billed every month despite numerous attempts to cancel.
The Pitch: Learn How I Make $67,000 a Year Being a Stay-at-Home Mom!
There are many ads on Facebook that advertise ways to make easy money from home. Similar to the acai berry ads, the ads link to blogs that were supposedly created by people who made money through a work-at-home program. One such blog written by a “Sarah Roberts” claims that she added “$67,000 a year to my family’s income working 10 hours a week (that’s over $128 an hour!)” by creating Web sites that host Google ads. Another, www.jasongetsrich.com, is ostensibly written by the newly married “Jason” who makes “around $5,500 to $7,000 a month from Google.”
The Fine Print: The blogs direct readers to Web sites for programs such as Internet Money Machine and Easy Google Cash where they can sign up for a seven-day trial access to information on how to make money from home. While the free trial supposedly only costs $1.95-$2.95, the individual will be charged $69.90 every month if they don’t cancel seven days from signing up. The fine print also states that the company does not give refunds.
BBB Warns: Use extreme caution when signing up for a work-at-home job or money-making opportunity online. In the past 12 months the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois received 38,196 inquiries about work at home opportunities; there were 94,332 inquiries in the past 36 months. The BBB also received 90 complaints in the last 12 months and 406 in the last 36 months. Job hunters should also be aware that while some work-at-home opportunities have the word “Google” in their name and use Google’s logo on their Web sites, they are not actually affiliated with Google.
“Of course, not all ads on social networking sites are misleading and misleading ads aren’t confined to Facebook or MySpace. The point though, is that it’s important that people always read the fine print carefully before giving their credit card information online,” added Bernas.
For more guidance from your BBB on avoiding scams go to www.bbb.org.