Earlier today, as part of its Fraud Prevention Month efforts in March, the Competition Bureau announced its Top 2 on “2 Good 2 B True Day” scams: false online testimonials; and mobile “subscription traps”.
With respect to false testimonials, the Bureau highlighted concerns with testimonials that appear to be from unbiased individuals, but in fact are paid-for endorsements (or malicious or fraudulent).
Under the Competition Act, false testimonials can be challenged where they are either literally false or misleading (under the general civil or criminal misleading advertising provisions of the Act). The Competition Act also includes a standalone testimonials section that makes it reviewable conduct to publish a testimonial for a product unless the person publishing it can establish that: the testimonial was previously made or published; or was approved with permission to make/publish it.
The Bureau has also raised concerns in the past with false or misleading testimonials. For example, in its pamphlet False or Misleading Representations and Deceptive Marketing Practices the Bureau says: “[u]nder the civil regime, the general provision prohibits all materially false or misleading representations. [and] “other provisions specifically prohibit … untrue, misleading or unauthorized use of tests and testimonials …” These guidelines also offer the following testimonial-related guidance for advertisers: “[d]on’t use the results of product performance tests and/or testimonials in your advertising unless you are authorized to use them; or if you are authorized to use them, don’t distort test results or the scope of testimonials”.
As for “subscription traps” – which the Bureau defines as “techniques designed to make consumers register for recurring fees for goods” – the Bureau emphasizes situations where products appear to be free (when charges apply) or where there are hidden or difficult to understand conditions (or refunds subject to conditions). This particular scheme has been an issue, among others, in a number of traditional marketing fraudulent directory scams in recent years (e.g., deceptive fax spam).
The Bureau’s Backgrounder issued with its announcement also includes other tips for consumers to avoid these scams.
Both of these fraud techniques discussed by the Bureau are consistent with its recent and ongoing enforcement priorities in the advertising and deceptive marketing areas, which include a focus on the web and new technology (particularly mobile), increased pressure to clearly disclose the total price of products, heightened scrutiny of disclaimers and hidden conditions and as well consistent enforcement based not only on the literal meaning of claims but also the overall “general impression”.
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