DAYTON, OHIO, April 8, 2009 - Your 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, work-at-home opportunities and offers for free computers can cost you more than you bargained for in the long run.
According to Nielsen Online, social networking sites were more popular than e-mail in 2008. Facebook’s over 108 million members spent over 20 billion minutes on the site last year alone. Advertisers are going where the people are and eMarketer estimates $1.3 billion will be spent on social networking advertising in 2009.
"People need to use extreme caution and read the fine print before handing over their credit card information to online advertisers. Just because ads appear on Web sites they trust, doesn’t mean they can always trust the advertisers," said John North, BBB president and CEO. "One of the big red flags we’re seeing is ads linking to blog platforms designed to look like personal testimonials from satisfied customers. In our experience, if an ad takes you to a blog, it’s best to hit the back button immediately."
Below are just a few examples of common ads on social networking sites and what the fine print reveals:
The Pitch:"Lose 4 Dress Sizes"
In January, your BBB issued a warning about online ads and Web sites using 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, 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 leading to Web sites touting acai-berry supplements as weight loss miracles.
The Fine Print:The phony blogs link to Web sites offering free trials of acai supplements, and while you may think you only have to pay shipping, you could get billed as much as $87 every month if you don’t cancel before the trial period ends. The fine print also explains the trial period begins from the moment you order the supplement and not after you receive the shipment.
BBB Warns:Not only do health experts question the legitimacy of weight loss claims linked to the acai-berry, but your BBB has received thousands of complaints from people against such acai supplement companies because many were billed despite never receiving free trials or were billed monthly despite numerous attempts to cancel.
The Pitch: "Learn How I Make $67,000 a Year Being a Stay-at-Home Mom!"
There are many Facebook ads promoting ways to make easy money from home. Similar to the acai-berry ads, the ads link to blogs supposedly created by people who made money through work-at-home programs. One such blog written by a "Sarah Roberts" claims 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 hosting 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 seven-day trial access to information on how to make money from home. While the free trials supposedly only cost $1.95-$2.95, people will be charged $69.90 monthly if they don’t cancel seven days from signing up. The fine print also states the company doesn’t give refunds.
BBB Warns:Use extreme caution when signing up for a work-at-home job or money-making opportunity online. In 2008 alone, your BBB received more than 3,500 complaints from people who signed up for offers to learn how to work from home, but were ultimately disappointed. Job hunters should also be aware while some work-at-home opportunities have the word "Google" in their names and use Google’s logo on their Web sites, they’re not actually affiliated with Google.
The Pitch: "Get a Free Purple [Red, Pink, Green, Black,] MacBook"
Also common on Facebook are ads to get free a MacBook Air claiming the company is seeking laptop testers. The ads lead to an incentive marketing program at www.colormyrewards.com where participants must sign up for various products and services to earn their free laptops.
The Fine Print:Customers must complete two options from each of the three tiers—Top, Prime and Premium—before receiving their "free" MacBooks. Example offers listed in the Top and Prime tiers include signing up for credit cards or trial offers for subscription services, such as vitamin supplements or DVD rental services. In some cases, participants need to pay for shipping and if they aren’t vigilant about canceling the trial offers they signed up for, they’ll begin being billed every month. Examples of the Premium offers listed on the Web site that must be met to get MacBooks are much more expensive and include paying as much as $1,500 for furniture or purchasing a travel package with a minimum value of $899 per person.
BBB Warns:Incentive programs can be extremely costly in the long run and the fine print shows the customer might have to pay a significant amount of money to get their "free" items. Another red flag is Apple doesn’t make MacBook Air in purple, red, pink or green.
"Of course, not all ads on social networking sites are misleading and misleading ads aren’t confined to Facebook or MySpace. The point is it’s important to always read the fine print carefully before giving credit card information online," John added.
Contact your BBB for more information on avoiding misleading ads on social networking sites. Visit www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825.
About Your BBB Serving Dayton and the Miami Valley
Your BBB is an unbiased nonprofit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses earning BBB Accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. Your BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, your BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 126 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring nearly 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Your BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley serves Montgomery, Greene, Clark, Darke, Miami, Preble, Shelby and northern Warren counties. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about your BBB.