Are Fake Review Websites Legal? Can Affiliates Use Them? (Plus 5 Marketing Rules)
“I can use fake review websites; everyone else does it, so can I!”
A bit of advice: Re-think your promotional pride, because using phony review sites — or allowing your affiliates to use them — could land you on Skid Row. (OK, that’s overly dramatic. But using fake review websites can get you into expensive trouble with the FTC.)
FTC Busts Weight-Loss Company for Not Following Marketing Guidelines
The Federal Trade Commission busted a pair of diet pill brands – Sale Slash and Purists Choice – for not adhering to promotional guidelines laid out in the Lanham Act and Dot Com Disclosures.
Merchants of “organic” weight-loss supplements, Sale Slash and Purists Choice, sold things like Pure Garcinia Cambogia, Premium Green Coffee, Premium White Kidney Bean Extract, Pure Forskolin Extract, and Pure Caralluma Fimbriata Extract.
If You Know Affiliates Are Using Fake Review Websites, You’re Responsible for Their Actions
The FTC believes that both companies knowingly worked with:
- Illegal SPAM-sending,
- Fake news site-having,
- Black hat-wearing,
- Phony-celebrity endorsing,
Here’s the #1 rule you must remember about using affiliate marketers: If you hire affiliates, and you make them sign a contract that says you can fire them at any time – then you’re also responsible for how said affiliates market and promote your products. Full stop; bottom line; do not pass go. One more time: Businesses are responsible for their affiliate marketers’ promotional actions.
Once The FTC Uncovers Credible Evidence of Marketing Deception, the Suits Take Over
The FTC investigation of Sale Slash and Purists Choice is underway; evidence against them has been compiled, and a judge green lit a motion that will effectively halt distribution and marketing of the products under dispute.
Moving forward, both companies’ assets will probably be frozen and a temporary receiver appointed if violations are definitively uncovered. After all, funds need to be ready for consumer refunds.
The 5 Basic Rules for Online Marketing
- If an ad, article, graphic, post, pin, tweet, or gram is an advertisement or sponsorship, label it as such.
- If you pay, or otherwise materially compensate, tweeters to promote a product or service, their posts must use an #ad or #sponsored hashtag in the promotional tweet or social media post.
- Don’t lie or make false scientific claims. Doing so is a one-way ticket to a giant FTC fine that could put you out of business.
- Disclose everything. If you’re signing people up for anything, let them know all of the stipulations beforehand so they can make an informed decision. If you’re billing people monthly, let them know. If you paid for your testimonials and reviews, put it out there. The FTC is serious about disclosures. As such, it’s a good idea to cozy up with the Dot Com Disclosures to make sure you’re operating on the right side of the marketing law. Questions? Get advice from an online marketing attorney.
- Fake news and review sites – that don’t feature clear and conspicuous disclosures – are against the law. And the FTC is on the lookout for marketers still using fake news sites. If you don’t want to end up in a legal tangle, don’t use them.
Online marketing lawyers can save businesses time, money – and FTC headaches. Get in touch with Kelly / Warner. Our attorneys can answer your online marketing questions. We’ll resolve your issues quickly — and for a fraction of the price.