Siblings send consumers to false review sites, hoping they’ll flip
Sonny and Bobby Le, brothers from Anaheim California, caught the Federal Trade Commission’s attention with a series of websites (titled Infinity Trampolines, Happy Trampoline, and Trampoline Jumpers) through which they sold Infinity and Olympus Pro brand trampolines.
These websites, which were owned and operated by the brothers, prominently featured logos from independent review sites with monikers including “Trampoline Safety of America,” “Top Trampoline Review,” and the Monty Pythonesque “Bureau of Trampoline Review.” Each of these independent organizations offered ratings and reviews, pointedly recommending the Le brothers’ trampoline models.
The problem was simple. The Le brothers owned each of the review sites as well. According to the FTC, the logos were fake, as were the structural engineers and gymnastic coaches who purportedly provided the reviews. The FTC also accused Bobby Le of penning fake customer testimonials playing up their products–not the sort of activity the FTC takes lightly.
The Commission slapped the brothers with two counts of false advertising, one for each of the sales and review sites.
Pursuant to the settlement, the brothers are barred from making future misrepresentations about any sports, recreational or exercise equipment they sell, including claims that a reviewing entity is an independent organization or provides objective information about their products or claims about the existence or nature of tests, studies, or research concerning the performance or safety of a covered product. They also agreed to disclose any connections between the reviews and the sales sites.
The brothers’ brush with the FTC demonstrates the importance of full disclosure and of drawing clear, bright lines around the relationships that underlie reviews, sales, and testimonials.