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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