When Is Free Not Really Free?

When a con artist is behind the offer.

Some asshole named Jesse Willms from Alberta Canada got bitch slapped by the FTC for making false free trial offers in advertisements. Willms has to pay back the money he bilked, plus his personal assets among other things. Willms bilked $359 million from people that clicked on ads for things like AcaiBurn, PureCleanse colon cleansers and DazzelWhite/ DazzleSmile teeth whiteners.

All of these products were offered through ads on mainstream websites. The ads said there was a “free trial” and a “money back guarantee.” The ads were seen on just about every big name, mainstream website.

The publishers of the websites that displayed the ads are not to blame for profiting from displaying the ads though. You see, most of the times, these ads are served from a third party server that the publisher of the website has no control over. The website publisher makes money by displaying the ad and in some cases, they also (or only) make money when people click on the ad even though they have no control over what the ad is selling.

So, even though you’re on a reputable website, the ads are coming from somewhere else and could be paid for by people with less than reputable intentions. There’s an entire cottage industry built around displaying ads and there are lot of different types of ads and lots of different ways to make money with the ads. I’ll write some more about them at some other time.

This lady’s experience is typical of how these assholes came to get their filthy hands on people’s credit card and billing information and how they simply would not release their death grip:

The money phrase there is “because the ad was on a reputable website, she figured it must be legit.” Turns out, it was anything but legit.

This is the sort of thing that makes me feel good about deciding to remove the ads from a lot of my sites. I just don’t want to help out assholes like Willms and his ilk.

Behavior like that of Willms and his cohorts is what turned me off to from internet marketing as a whole. One rotten tomato ruins the bunch or however that saying goes.

Anyway, the ruse that these guys used is called a “negative option” which is a really sneaky way to charge you money for crap you don’t want. The way it works, is that you have to specifically opt out of the program in order to not be charged. The key, of course, is to make it nigh impossible for you to opt out in the first place by either using obtuse language or burying the notice in the fine print.

Sometimes, they may even want you to opt out by regular mail, or they’ll have you return the sample that they sent you if you opt out. They may still charge you for things that you didn’t want to begin with just because they have your credit card number and they know that it’s a good number.

Are there legitimate products being advertised on line? Yes, absolutely, but the old adage still rings true:

If it’s too good to be true, then it must either not be true or not be good.

Something like that anyway. What I find interesting about this deal, is that there’s no mention as to whether the products actually worked as advertised or not. The entire beef that the FTC has with Willms is based entirely on the negative option that they used to sell their product.

Caveat emptor my friends.




Rafael is an aviation geek, a consumer advocate, a dad, a multiple personality blogger, a photographer, politically opinionated, a videographer and many other things as well.