The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is sending out another warning to unscrupulous marketers who try to manipulate consumers with fake reviews.
FTC Crackdown on Fake Reviews
The warning accompanies the charging two brothers the FTC says posted deceptive ads and endorsements of trampolines they were selling online. The brothers have been ordered by the federal agency to stop their activities immediately.
The feds say the two trampoline sellers deceived consumers by directing them to review websites that claimed to be independent but were not, and failing to disclose that one of the brothers posted online product endorsements without disclosing his financial interest in the sale of the products.
FTC Charges Brothers with Posting Fake Trampoline Endorsements
According to the FTC, the two brothers Son “Sonny” Le and Bao “Bobby” Le working together used several fictitious business names and sold Infinity and Olympus Pro brand trampolines on several websites. These sales websites prominently featured logos from supposedly independent review organizations, including “Trampoline Safety of America,” the “Bureau of Trampoline Review” and “Top Trampoline Review.” The review organizations’ websites were in reality owned and run by the Le brothers.
Consumers who clicked on the logos placed on the sales websites were redirected to the websites of those fake review organizations. The fake sites claimed to provide objective information, including unbiased “expert reviews” of specific brands and models, as well as ratings based on performance, safety and other qualities. Each review site recommended the Le brothers’ Infinity and Olympus Pro trampolines.
In addition, FTC charged Bobby Le had posted online reviews appearing to be from ordinary trampoline owners without disclosing his connection to the products he was promoting. In the reviews, he praised the “strong frames” and other attributes of the products he and his brother were selling, while disparaging other brands.
Brothers Settle FTC Charges of Manipulating Online Reviews
The two brothers agreed in late May this year to settle with the FTC agreeing while marketing and selling their trampolines they had engaged in the deceptive practices. Sadly, this isn’t the first example of businesses deceiving consumers with fake reviews.
The Commission issued a final order settling charges against the two brothers July 18. The final order bars the brothers from engaging in such deceptive behavior in the future and requires them to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connections between a reviewer and the product being reviewed.
FTC usually levies stiff penalties and fines against those found guilty of using deceptive practices in marketing and selling their products. The brothers seem to have avoided this. There is no mention of any fines levied in the FTC announcements or supporting documents on the case. But, considering 84 percent of customers trust online reviews as a personal recommendation, the temptation for a small group of unscrupulous marketers to act dishonestly remains.
Trampoline Photo via Shutterstock