If you sell a product that has glowing reviews from dependable expert critics, you’d probably want to point that out to customers. Or… you could just go ahead and make up a bunch of fake “expert” sites filled with fictional reviews.
The Federal Trade Commission has accused the folks behind several trampoline-selling sites of creating multiple supposedly independent websites to trick customers into believing that their products had received rave write-ups from people who know a thing or two about trampolines.
According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF] brothers Sonny and Bobby Le — who operated under several names, including Recreational Products, Trampoline Jumpers, Happy Trampoline, and others of pointing potential customers of their Olympus Pro and Infinity trampolines to separate websites with favorable reviews of these products.
These sales websites, the FTC claims, prominently featured logos from supposedly independent review entities, including “Trampoline Safety of America,” the “Bureau of Trampoline Review,” and “Top Trampoline Review.”
When a potential customer clicked on the logos they were directed to the websites of those reviewing organizations, which claimed to provide objective information, including unbiased “expert reviews” and ratings based on safety, performance, and other qualities.
Each of these sites agreed that the Le brothers’ trampolines (which sell for as much as $5,000) were just awesome.
“In conclusion I highly recommend the Olympus pro trampoline,” reads one site. “It is the heaviest frame and highest weight capacity of all the trampolines we’ve reviewed. The double security net with the clips and zipper makes it one of the safest as well. As you can see from their website they have been featured on many TV shows / commercials.”
While customers were led to believe these reviews and ratings were legit, the FTC claims that wasn’t the case.
In fact, the FTC contends that nearly everything — logos, claims, reviews — was faked by the Le brothers.
Additionally, the FTC claims that Bobby Le went even further in perpetuating the scheme, writing favorable online reviews that appeared to come from ordinary trampoline owners. The reviews typically praised the Les’ products, while scathing other brands.
“Found this trampoline on the Bureau of trampoline review [sic] and this is the best trampoline that I’ve ever owned. I had the jumpsport [sic] recently and It [sic] is not as advertised. Within 2 yrs. [sic] the frame started rusting. This crap is definitely china [sic] made. Don’t waste your money [sic],” a review allegedly written by Bobby states.
In settling the FTC’s false advertising claims, the Sonny and Bobby Les agreed to stop making misrepresentations related to their product reviews. They are also required to disclose clearly any connection between an endorser and the company.