You’re probably sick of them by now: those ads that promise “1 Tip for a Tiny Belly” next to a drawing of a shrinking stomach. Don’t believe it, the government says: In different lawsuits, federal officials are pursuing those behind the ads, calling them a giant fraud, the Washington Post reports. The ads have garnered “tens of billions” of views, says a US lawyer, and have brought in more than a billion dollars—but they’re rife with misinformation.
The ads, by affiliates of the products’ manufacturers, lead to sites with fake news articles made to look like unbiased investigative reporting. But the news sources behind the sites, like Consumeronlinetips.com, are fake, the companies can’t demonstrate that their products work, and the “free samples” aren’t really free. In one case, requesting a free sample means agreeing to pay $80 every few weeks for new shipments, the Post notes. Meanwhile, the affiliates—who are seemingly unconnected, though their tactics are similar—allegedly cite legitimate news organizations and celebrities who haven’t really endorsed their products.