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I just listened in on the FTC call regarding Economic Stimulus Scams. While I don’t promote these “grants”, I wanted to listen in as this is a step by the government in regulating the affiliate marketing industry. Here’s what’s going on:
This was a press conference warning consumers that these are scams, and announcing that the FTC is working with media companies to stop these ads. The ads show photos of Obama or Biden informing the user to get their grant money to payoff their mortgages, debts, etc. They mention the economic stimulus plan, which consumers think they can get money from (wrong!). The ads direct users to commercial sites, not government sites (official government sites end in .gov).
Sites that were called out include presidentobamagrants.com and jessicasmoneyblog.com. They charge $1.89 or so, but then will charge the card $99 plus $49.95 / month for access to this debt information, and also enroll the user in a debt website, which also starts charging the card. In 1 year, the card will be charged over $1,000.
Consumers need to know the US government does not charge for grant applications, and does not charge to give access to a list of available grants. If you’re looking for a list of government grants, visit grants.gov.
So Facebook had reps there, and the FTC spokesperson specifically mentioned Facebook and Google as advertising networks working with them by pulling ads. Consumers who see these ads are urged to report them to the FTC and / or the ad network.
The second topic was phishing / spam messages, where users fill out a form, or download some software (malware) and end up having their identity stolen. Simply put, don’t open these emails, don’t download anything, and just delete the messages.
For information on the stimulus plan from the source, visit recovery.gov.
Into the Q&A: are there any legal actions being taken? No comment.
If the small print is there, is this illegal? Well, illegal & deceptive are 2 different things. The FTC is reviewing these on a case-by-case basis. Deceptive marketing techniques will be challenged by the FTC and the courts will decide if it’s illegal.
What’s going to happen to deceptive sites? Either: don’t do this, don’t do this & other things, shut down the website, or give money back.
Finally (well, before I hung up), Facebook mentioned users may report these deceptive ads by clicking on the thumbs down icon by an ad, then selecting if the ad is “misleading” or “objectionable”.
It’s been mentioned before, but if the affiliate industry doesn’t self-regulate, the government will step in & regulate things for us.