Many of the ads you see online are created by marketers who are paid each time you click on their ad. And if that click takes you to a website where you sign up to try a product or make a purchase, the marketer may get paid even more. These are called affiliate marketers and they are not all necessarily trustworthy, advised the Federal Trade Commission in a release.
These marketers are hired by the owner of the product to promote it on social media, on websites, and through email. Sometimes networks of affiliate marketers negotiate the rate marketers will get paid per click, per sign-up to try the product, and per purchase. Everyone from the merchant to the affiliate marketers gets a cut of the profits. The unnerving thing is these people may be tracking you, too, just from that initial click.
While affiliate marketing is a good way for advertisers to promote a product or service, the problem is that some deceitful affiliate marketers use ads with exaggerated claims or misleading information to get people to click. They may make the most outrageous claims about their product — say anything — because they have an incentive — profits.
In some cases, seeming testimonials from satisfied customers or headlines praising the product may actually be click-bait leading to dubious websites with scurrilous information or lures for illegal schemes or malware. The FTC has prosecuted hundreds of consumer scams.
So, the next time you see a tempting online ad or interesting headline, think before you click. Ask yourself:
- How do I know who’s truly behind the ad? Could someone be astroturfing; that is masking the true identity of the sponsors or organizations involved in this particular ad or political, religious or public relations message? In this case, the sponsors hope to gain credibility by withholding their actual connection.
- Do I know if they’re being truthful? Is someone being paid to get me to click?
- Who is tracking me when I click on the ad or headline and who else is getting that information about me?
Information flows and online transactions of all kinds are vital to our economy and security, but the increased collection and use of consumers' information carries some risk when that information is not properly secured or used for identity theft and fraud, warned the FTC.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics or file a complaint if you have been scammed consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).