Fake news sites used to pitch products

August 31, 2009 6:41:30 PM PDT
"Don't believe everything you read" is something many of us have been told since we were children. Testimonials in ads have always been faked, but the Internet is making it easier for companies to disguise who they are and what they are really up to.

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News 9 health specialist Katie Wilson is a reporter on a mission to tell the truth about Resveratrol, a health supplement, and she gets around a lot. She has reported the exact same story on News 3, or as it's known, CNN3. She has also surfaced on News1 Local and News 5 News, where her first name has been changed to Janice.

All of these Web sites link to a company selling a supplement called Resveratrol Ultra. The site shows a Barbara Walters report or one from "60 Minutes." Other networks are sampled as well.

"It is something that's called astroturf, the creation of fake grassroots initiatives by companies that really disguise corporate advertising or brand promotion as some kind of bottom up effort that everyday consumers are involved in," says Consumer Action's Joe Ridout.

He says paid disguised ads can be found throughout the Internet.

"It makes me wonder how many more companies like that are engaged in the same behavior," says Ridout. "There must be legions of companies doing the same thing."

A while back, a company selling job training imitated ABC7. They even had a post by the consumer reporter, a so-called "Bill Stanford," not Michael Finney.

Back then, PC World's Mike Barton explained it is an advertising technique that works.

"The URL looks legitimate and then you go to a site that looks legitimate, and in that process most people... that's going to imply the trust there that you're on the right side, you click on this e-mail, it all looks legitimate," says Barton.

7 On Your Side contacted the parent company of Resveratrol Ultra and was told it would only address concerns if sent in a letter. The address given turned out to be a closed P.O. Box at a private mail drop. Multiple phone numbers no longer work. E-mails sent bounced back or have gone unanswered.

The Better Business Bureau gives the company an "F" rating.

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