This summer, beauty fans online might have stumbled upon a story about how “Bird Box” star Sandra Bullock was leaving Hollywood to concentrate on her lifestyle brand. The story appeared on a website with pictures of her appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show.
The ad claimed she was talking about the skin care products that have kept the 55-year-old actress looking youthful and even admitting to starting a backlash from plastic surgeons furious over her age-defying serum.
The problem for those consumers who then signed up for the free trial offer is that none of that is true, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday.
Bullock knows nothing of the product, has no skincare line to leave Hollywood for, and appeared on the “Ellen” show in 2018 only to promote her movie “Ocean’s 8,” the lawsuit says.
“People are being defrauded in this massive scam using Sandra’s and Ellen’s names and images,” said Michael Kump, Bullock’s attorney, and Michael Weinsten, DeGeneres’ attorney, in a statement.
The lawsuit exposes the abuses of so-called affiliate marketing in which fake celebrity endorsements have boomed online. The two stars join other A-listers who’ve sought to clamp down of fake endorsements using their image or likeness to shill products without their permission. The case was first reported by the New York Times.
Affiliate marketing is a popular way for online celebrities to earn money by promoting products and directing consumers to the online seller, netting a cut of each sale.
The actors are seeking unspecified damages against various unnamed websites and are using the litigation to unmask a cottage industry of scammers who create bogus stories online to lure consumers without the expense of traditional advertising, according to the claim. The ads ask consumers to share their credit or debit card information and potentially rope them into recurring charges, with the promise of a free trial or the cost of shipping only.
The identities of these website creators, selling items such as beauty products and weight loss potions, are usually masked through private registration methods, making it hard to clamp down on their activities online, according to the claim.
High-profile actors like the Oscar-winning Bullock and DeGeneres are vulnerable to such schemes because of their age, great looks and reputation for honesty, the lawsuit alleges. Both have been fighting such schemes for two years, sending cease-and-desist orders, but the ads reappear either in a different form or with a different product name. The lawsuit lists about 40 products that have been promoted without their consent.
The Better Business Bureau said in December that although free trials of products can be legitimate, millions of consumers are being scammed with fake endorsements. Some soon discover the trial is not free and are unwittingly charged $100 or more if they don’t cancel in 14 days. Such scams have cost consumers more than $1.3 billion in the last decade, the bureau said.