Spotting Deceptive Ads

June 30, 2014

Michigan consumers see scores of advertising every day through their mailbox, newspaper, television, telephone and computer. Most ads are honest, straightforward offers; but some try to trick you. We call them "masquer-ads" - advertisements disguised as something else to catch your attention.

For example, you receive an article in the mail that appears to have been torn out of a magazine. Attached to it is a hand written yellow "sticky" addressed to you by name. "Try this. It's really good!" The signature simply says "J." Could this have come from one of your family members? Actually such clips are ads printed to look like a magazine article, complete with a fake personal endorsement.

Not everything that comes through the mail is what it appears to be. "Masquer-ads" can arrive in official looking envelopes or mock express delivery packets. Sometimes they bear return addresses with names just close enough to a real agency or organization to sound convincing - "Social Security Agency," for example, instead of "Social Security Administration." Sometimes they appear to contain actual checks or notification of a contest you have "won." And sometimes, they look more like personalized letters than bulk mailings, complete with 49-cent stamps and handwritten addresses.

So, how can you tell real ads from deceptive ones? Look for these red flags in your mail:

  • Government-like logos or addresses that make the information look important.
  • Magazine solicitations that look like renewal notices.
  • Checks that, if chased, switch your telephone carrier.
  • Simulated checks that invite credit applications.No Junk Mail
  • Companies or organizations with "sound-alike" names that play on the reputations of others.
  • Solicitations with handwritten addresses or first-class stamps.
  • Mailings that imply a personal endorsement from someone you know.
  • Ads disguised as personal letters, news stories or independent reviews.
  • Endorsements with the word "advertisement" inconspicuously placed or in tiny print.

If you have a complaint about an advertisement, let us know. Report a potential scam here, or you may also call us at 1-800-684-3222.