5 most deceptive ads of the year – and what they mean for you

Minerva/Shutterstock
Minerva/Shutterstock

I’m no fan of “worst of” lists because someone deserving always gets left off, but the list circulated recently by a new consumer advocacy group called Truth In Advertising, made me — how shall I say this — bend my rule.

Truth In Advertising issued a total of 221 alerts in 2013, and technically it didn’t call these ads the most deceptive; its readers did.

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Each one of these promos offers a case study in deception — a valuable lesson you can take with you the next time you go shopping. If nothing else, they show that consumers found some of these potentially fraudulent ads to be very entertaining.

You’ll see why in a minute.

Here are the five most-visited pages.

Viagra for only $3 a pill — where do I sign up?
Leading off the list of deceptive ads is . I know, I know, so many alarms are going off at the same time you probably can’t even hear what I’m saying. Don’t worry, the feeling will pass and so will the dizziness. As Truth In Advertising points out, Viagra is a FDA-approved prescription drug, so it can’t be sold over the air. This here Viagra appears to be a knock-off!

Lesson: Read the fine print, and if the offer is made over the radio, find the fine print and review it before buying. Also, don’t buy prescription medications without, you know, a prescription.

Now that’s a suspicious endorsement!
Beware of any ads that help you manipulate a government program like Social Security. Be extra suspicious when a news site endorses it, because it might actually own the site. Also, the site might be nothing more than a newsletter with, er, questionable pricing. Even a David Mamet movie doesn’t have this many double-crosses.

Lesson: Never sign up for newsletters that offer something that looks too good to be true. Then again, if you think you can “hack” Social Security, maybe you deserve to be scammed.

A “free” course? That’s the pitch of this ad, which promises a “low-risk trading system” that will help you make $1,000 a day risking only $100. As Truth in Advertising points out, the creators of this system are so confident in it, they’ll give it to you “for free” via a website. Of course, there’s no legal way to make $1,000 a day on the market risking only $100. Your only risk is falling for this questionable pitch, according to the group.

Lesson: Remember, if it looks too good to be true …

A risky wealth management strategy
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this warning is what must have happened after it was issued. The company in question saw the post, probably objected to being included, and in all likelihood pressured the organization for a “correction.” That, despite the fact that a well-known financial magazine had issued a fairly serious warning about the kind of investments being offered. I’m not privy to the details, of course, but we do know this was a popular notice and that consumers probably weren’t the only ones reading it.

Lesson: Whatever the product, whatever the ad — it’s definitely worth reading the warning labels.

Lose weight now! No work required!
Have a look at these “before” and “after” photos. That could be you! Or not. Remarkably, Truth in Advertising doesn’t even bother to debunk the ad; it just links to a review of the product, which calls it a fiber supplement — and a very expensive fiber supplement too!. Diet and exercise — not a “liquid complex” — is the only proven way to lose weight. There are no surefire shortcuts.

Lesson: Products that offer you a “shortcut” to love and romance or greater wealth — or really, anything — should be viewed with suspicion. That’s especially true of weight loss remedies.

By the way, I find these allegedly deceptive ads to not just be alarming, but immensely entertaining. I watched and I laughed. You will, too.

Do you believe the ads you see online?

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53 thoughts on “5 most deceptive ads of the year – and what they mean for you

  1. It is interesting that note that Kevin Trudeau who used to push stuff like this has just been sentenced to 10 years in jail.

    1. It was very satisfying reading about his sentence. In interviews prior to him being jailed in September he was very smug as he claimed he had no money, when in fact he was trying to hide the assets by transferring them to his wife’s name. He’s a smarmy person.

    2. Actually, his sentence was 5 years, but since he was one of the first 10 cases on the docket that particular day, the judge threw in five more years at no extra charge.

    3. I read that as well. The part I haven’t found yet is how they got him back to the U.S. – – last I saw on TV, he was living in France. Did they extradite him back here? (Do we even have an extradition treaty with France?)

  2. Can’t vote as each ad must be analyzed individually. The repetitive themes of enhanced sex, great wealth, dramatically improved looks and gaming the government are big red flags, though.

    1. The biggest red flag for me is the simple question, “If this is such a great thing, why aren’t YOU making millions do it? Why are you wasting your time trying to sell me a tape, seminar, or whatever instead of being out there making money?”

      Likewise, the ‘hot’ iPad you want to sell me, some stranger on the street. Yeah, why didn’t you sell it to your brother, you dad, your best friend, etc.?

  3. You didn’t cover the most deceptive ads ever created and that is the President pitching his Affordable Care Act which is not affordable as he claims, does not lower health costs as he claimed, does not let you keep your doctor and your health plan and does in fact create death panels. Obama – the liar in Chief.

    1. 1. ACA is in fact affordable for the lower income such as myself. My insurance doesn’t cost me a penny, and my deductible is $300.

      2. I did keep my doctor, and my health plan is with the same company (yes I changed plans to get the lower deductible.)

      3. Give it a rest on the “death panels.” The government is not making decisions on anything. Yes insurance can refuse certain procedures, and they can refuse certain treatments, but it ain’t big brother that’s doing it, and our insurance companies have been doing this for years anyway.

    2. NakinaAce is obviously upset about a lot of conservative
      issues besides the ACA.

      Let me speak first about the ACA… and I speak as a retired, former, provider of medical care.
      Many of the cases where people were not able to keep their insurance was because their insurance did not meet the minimum government standard in quality; in other words, the people complaining that they could no longer keep their poor quality insurance were happy with their bad insurance. Remember, the effect of all insurance policies is the same… UNTIL YOU NEED THEM.

      In these cases, the government is protecting people from poor-value policies with some justification. If a
      person insured with one of these lousy policies gets hurt, it is ultimately some government entity which will pick up the uninsured costs.

      Choice of Practitioner:
      In order to hold down costs, some insurance policies have contracts with doctors to provide services at a lower than market cost. There are many policies that do not dictate which group of practitioners one sees. People are free to choose a policy with limited panels or no
      panels.

      What would satisfy patients, practitioners, and taxpayers, is a single payer system… sort of Medicare for all. [Ask anyone on Medicare if they are unhappy and you’ll find 99% satisfaction]. It was the threat of conservatives and the Insurance/Hospital lobby that prevented a
      single payer system from being considered. They constitute a powerful and very wealthy lobby, and a single payer
      system could not be enacted now.

      The Koch brothers and others have spent tens of millions in advertising to dissuade people from signing up for the ACA. Seven million people have done so at this time.

      What bothers NakinaAce is having to pay for poor people getting perks. I’ve always been part of the Middle Class and I’ve been the beneficiary of lots of perks that have been around so long that they seem like the most natural, God-given rights…so we don’t think of them as perks anymore. Poor people don’t have any of these: I’m speaking about tax credit for mortgage payments, federal funds for the colleges
      your kids went to, State tuition credits at State Colleges, investment credits, carried interest, and a discount on taxes if they are held long term.

      One person’s deduction is viewed by another as a perk. One person’s perk, is viewed by others as an unjustified give-away. ACA, Aid to
      Dependent Families, Unemployment Compensation, and SSI (disability payments under Social Security) are viewed by others as income transfers.

      .

  4. Are people really that stupid and gullible? Why not just be a skeptic and purposely not read any advertisement?

    1. I have a good friend who used to work in advertising. He now wishes there was a way to eliminate all advertising. Let people make informed decisions based on facts and references only. This would be impossible to implement, but he has convinced me that it is a good idea. I do always try to ignore ads myself.

    2. I was told that a woman ordered a fool-proof weight loss product. It was cheap enough to give it a try and she said she was so humiliated she never contacted the authorities……it was a band-aid with an instruction on it to put it on her mouth until she was thin. Wow.

  5. Guaranteed to lose 50 pounds in an hour…visit a hooker in London.
    Magic Eye sees through any door…and then receive 1 of those security viewfinders that every hotel door has in them…
    Bluenose medallion, fresh from the Royal Canadian Mint, only $29.95…and receive a Canadian dime…
    Luscious Okanagan beauties peeled to the core…receive a picture of an apple
    $150 for an hour of sex with a real doll…open the door, there’s the inflatable doll.
    etc.
    etc.

    1. HAHAHAH!!!! “Magic Eye sees through any door…and then receive 1 of those security viewfinders that every hotel door has in them…” LOVE IT!!!!!

      I am going to place an add for, “Gain the ability to walk through walls” and if anyone buys it, I will ship them a door. Doors, helping people walk through walls since….whenever doors were invented.

  6. Oh, forgot one from the legendary Joe Karbo…the must for any picnic…guaranteed to kill any fly, any bug, instantly….then, for your $49.95, you receive the following by mail — a block of wood, a hammer, and the instructions to “catch fly…place on board…hit with hammer…guaranteed to kill instantly or your money cheerfully refunded”

  7. Also another big one, advertisements that claim you have problems with your PC or to speed it up, etc, usually give people fake utilities or viruses.

  8. Of the three “Around the Web” links right above this comments section, one is for the “Skinny Pill” and another for “$152k Social Security Mistakes seniors make”. Chris…are you testing us??!!!!! Update: The third one too!! It’s for bitcoins – loosely disguised as a “news” article!!! Too funny!!!

  9. $3 Viagras are just as deceptive as real ads of prescription medication on TV.
    In the guise of providing “information”, drug firms advertise Rx medicine.
    But really all they want you to do is (without understanding anything), for you to go to your doctor and ask him/her to prescribe the drug.

    1. If your doctor will just prescribe it to you because you saw it on TV, you’ve got a much bigger problem than your own gullibility. That means your doctor is either incompetent or is getting kickbacks (which are illegal).

  10. I need to start watching more TV or at least skipping the commercials as I have not seen any of these ads. Or maybe I am simply watching the wrong channels. Will have to look around as I need a good laugh!

  11. I had friends who were basic hardworking conservative middle class adults who gave regular donations to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Over 7 years their son calculated they’d donated close to $15K to this televised church scam. Those people died believing their money went to a good cause! I know that pocket hose probably won’t last more than one season, and that if I want to lose 50 pounds only I can do it, but it’s human nature to want to believe that Santa is real and good people always win. The scams and cons that play on people’s dreams or fears are no better or worse than the political leaders who financially manipulate their own agenda (Koch brothers?) Nothing is free, nothing worthwhile is easy. but we like to believe that it just might be. Heck, I still buy a lottery ticket every few months. The state of Florida claims it helps education – they really do – yet, I know that dollar I donate will only replace one they deduct from the estimated budget. To be honest, I never bought the ticket to help education in the first place. I bought a bit of a stupid dream.

  12. the worst that are a constant, are any adverts that say from $x, but virtually nothing at that price or those retailers who say up to 50% off, where very few items at 50% off & mostly approx 10% off.

    Australians probably like many Americans, are in a sale mentality & many wait til the widget goes “on sale” before they will buy it.

    As a result the RRP’s of many items have been pushed up. Eg. Item was going to retail for $200, but instead retails for $300 & retailer can almost immediately put it, “on sale” 33% off, which is then $199 or what it should have been in the 1st place.

    Who’s at fault, retailer or consumer ?

    Bit like low cost airfares that don’t include anything.

    O’Leary from Ryanair is famous for milking free publicity for coming out with ……

    we’re going to charge to use the toilets on all flights & then a few weeks later after millions of dollars of free publicity, he comes out with, we’re not going to charge for using toilets & gets millions more in free publicity.

    In this case, it’s the medias fault for being so stupid.

    1. My wife has a good friend who works for a large retailer, and she said their first strategy when a ~$4 item isn’t selling, is to put it on sale with a big 2 for $10 sign. She said it almost always helps clear the stock. The sale price is more than the original, but people perceive it as a deal and buy it.

      1. so it’s not the retailers fault, it’s the consumers.

        7 years ago we got out of retail, but a similar thing used to happen.

        We’d have a massive genuine sale & customers would come in & say that’s too cheap, what’s wrong with it, so after that sale, we’d put price up to somewhere between full RRP & the sale price (cos we wanted to move the stuff) & often the same customer would buy same item at a higher price. Go figure the mentality behind that one. We’re not talking a one off here. We were in retailing for over 20 years & we would get offered all sorts of deals by wholesalers wanting to move stock, but we were careful not to make things too cheap, as 1), that sets some sort of benchmark & 2) the word FREE has far more impact on sales than 50% off, meaning buy 1 get 1 free, much better than 50%, not just cos retailer moves 2 of everything.

        Recently in Australia, perhaps in response to the Costco arrival in OZ, the 2 major supermarkets (yes we currently have 2, which have something like 70-80% of the market between them – we only have a population of 23 million for a country size of USA) have started doing almost everything that’s reduced only if you buy multiple of that item, but this can be false economy, as buying more at a lower price, often means you consume those items faster, as they are sitting in your home + you need more storage space !!!

        1. Here in the US, a retail department store, JC Penney’s, went to no sales. The price you paid, was already discounted. They lost sales. So a few months back, they went back to having sales. But not before they raised the prices and often the sale price is higher than what they were offering it at the discounted price with no sales.
          Our family business did a test. We sold many electronics to people on a temporary online site we put up. We sold items we didn’t stock, that we just ordered when a sale came through and were able to have our vendor ship directly to the customer. We never handled anything but the payment. All warranties were factory ones, and customers were told online that they contact the manufacturer if there was a problem. We sold out of everything we set our limits on selling in two or three weeks. Unbelievable what people will do thinking they are getting a deal, when in fact they aren’t. We have a second site right now, selling items from a local business at a 25% markup. We got an order from someone locally who could buy it at our friend’s shop, which is a well known (for the area) discounted warehouse for less, but bought from our site. I don’t get it!

        2. This is why some places in the US require supermarkets to put unit prices on the shelves. So you figure out what the better deal really is without much trouble. After that though, you just have to decide “Is this something I need? Is this something I will be able to use as I typically do? Is this going to last as long as it needs to?”

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