In this report
Overview

Beware of fake news online

Last reviewed: February 2010
Fake news Website
Ad in disguise
Despite small disclaimers at top and bottom ("advertisement" and "not affiliated with any news publication"), this page at www.healthnews10.com looks like a news page. Instead, it's a pitch for tobacco-free electronic cigarettes. Don't think our logo is a plug. Far from praising e-cigarettes, Consumer Reports noted their drawbacks.

At a glance the story at www.weeklydietreport.com looked like legitimate news from a TV station's Web site. "Kelly Bleakly of News 36" was said to investigate diet trends; sidebars and ads lined the edge of the screen; there was even a comments section after the article. But every component was a cleverly crafted ad leading the reader to a sales site. Weekly Diet Report was actually a front to push an acai-berry diet pill and colon cleanser.

The deviousness of such "advertorials" is more than annoying. Fake news sites promoting work-at-home scams have prompted hundreds of complaints to the Better Business Bureau from customers who signed up for a nominal fee and found their bank accounts debited by more than $70 a month. The Federal Trade Commission has shut down some such sites; others still exist.

Be wary of sites that include these features:

A list of "endorsements"

Fake news articles might feature "as seen on" logos of well-known news sources, but product coverage doesn't mean support.

Links that lead to a sales site

Mouse over links to see where they'll take you.

Promotional videos and testimonials

Be suspicious if the article or sidebars quote only sources who praise the product.

Comment propaganda

Fawning comments might run below the main story. Weekly Diet Report gave visitors no chance to add their own potentially critical comments: The section was closed "due to spam."

Tiny disclaimers

Many fake news sites include a free-trial offer. The gotcha usually hides at the bottom of the page: an automatic, often hefty charge to your credit card after the trial period. In January 2009, the BBB warned consumers about online ads that rely on celebrity endorsements to sell weight-loss products, citing thousands of complaints from consumers nationwide who thought they were signing up for a free-trial offer. "In the end," the BBB pointed out, "the free trial cost them, month after month."