Health portals that seem serious at first glance advertise dubious products. Consumers are apparently deceived here by fake product tests and false experts Photo: Getty Images/ Collage: FITBOOK
By Katharina Kunath | 30. April 2021, 11:56 am
They pretend to be health magazines and consumer portals, inventing expert and customer opinions: Questionable health products are advertised on the Internet via dubious websites. FITBOOK has investigatively researched how these websites proceed and how consumers* can protect themselves from them.
They are called "Health in life", "Forum of health" or "ill.de": websites that at first glance look like professional health magazines turn out to be fraudulent fake portals advertising dietary supplements. They advertise weight loss pills, detox cures and other health products from a dubious online store called "Baaboo". FITBOOK researched the tactics used to encourage consumers* to buy pills, creams and shakes, why it's so difficult to take action against these sites, and how to protect yourself from fake health magazines.
Fake health magazines advertise all kinds of questionable dietary supplements
At first glance, websites seem like "sick.de" or "Forum der Gesundheit" perhaps like serious health magazines. Extensively one becomes here over disease pictures. Treatment methods written. But the portals also publish countless product tests: for diet shakes, weight loss pills, sexual enhancers.
They advertise with screenshots of customer reviews whose authenticity cannot be verified, and with quotes from alleged doctors or nutritionists whose full names are not mentioned. In addition, phrases such as "scientifically proven" or "studies have shown" are always used, without linking to a single scientific source. The authors are supposedly well-known health journalists. However, you will not find them in any other publication.
The "tested" food auxiliary means promise thereby the madest things. "Betox Body Restart" is supposed to detoxify the lungs, liver, kidneys, skin and intestines at the same time. It consists mainly of fat. Listed ingredients include soybean oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, butterfat and yellow wax. Exactly the same ingredients are contained in a product that is supposed to help "fight parasite infestations in the early stages". Another product is presented as an anti-heart-death preparation. Could be "taken as an alternative to conventional medicine".
A contribution to a putative anti-heart-beating drug on ill.de Photo: Screenshot / FITBOOOK
Fake reviews, shell companies, invented experts
FITBOOK has gone in search of clues. We asked ourselves: What are these for web pages, which pretend to be health magazines? Where do they come from and for which dubious products do they advertise?
In total, we found almost twenty Internet sites*, all of which function according to the same pattern. They pretend to be health magazines or consumer portals with a health focus. Fake product tests, big promises and misleading claims are used to promote the same dietary supplements over and over again. For this the sides compare the advertised products either with invented products or with branded products. At the end always the No name product emerges as test winner. Its purchase is explicitly recommended with direct linking and advertisement.
*List of researched fake portals:
sick.de doctip.de health-in-life.com npalliance.org slim-list.de cakehealth.com edenext.eu atrada.en healthcanal.com evas-blog.net ready practices.de epigenesys.eu atrada.de forumdergesundheit.com branchas.de medical-center-bonn.de lpfa-nrw.de
Over weeks FITBOOK tried to find out who is behind these pseudo health portals. But the imprints of the magazines lead to mailbox addresses on the Marshall Islands, the Seychelles and Spain. To rural areas of Zimbabwe, to a co-working space in Dubai or to a hotel in Berlin. But never to one actually responsible. Our e-mail inquiries remain unanswered. Not a single person who appears on these sites in the form of an author, expert or consumer can be proven to be the same person. They simply do not exist.
The imprints of the individual portals lead to many places – just not to the real operators. But there is a pattern to the fake health magazines: The linking. The advertisements on the pages all lead to the same online store called Baaboo. The company, based in Estonia, sells food supplements as well as cleaning products, FFP-2 masks and hula hoops. There is no phone number, no email address for press inquiries. Only in a roundabout way we finally manage to contact them. We are offered a telephone interview with the alleged marketing manager of Baaboo.
At the agreed time our author is called from Dubai. The employee, whose identity cannot be confirmed after the fact, will never be reachable again following the call. When asked about the health portals, he explains that they are affiliate partnerships. Baaboo would have no influence on the extent to which the individual pages advertise their products. Further questions to food auxiliary means it blocks off.
Dietary supplements "Made in Germany" – company headquarters sometimes in Malta, sometimes in Belize
The nutritional supplements and health products that Baaboo sells and that the fake health portals advertise come from a company called "Good Living Products". The Baaboo employee confirms in the phone call that the company is their main partner in the field of dietary supplements. We try to find out more about the manufacturer – after all, the products are advertised as "Made in Germany". But here too a dead end. Although the products are supposedly manufactured in Germany, the company headquarters of "Good Living Products" is sometimes in Malta, sometimes in Belize.
Both addresses turn out to be mailbox addresses. The website of "Good Living Products" is incomplete, the email address does not work. The company refuses an interview requested through Baaboo. We also find a complaint on a consumer portal from a customer who states that the product he purchased from "Good Living Products" was sent to him in a relabeled package. Thereupon he found the identical product with a different label at the Chinese online retailer Alibaba at a lower price.
Until the end of our research we cannot find out where the dietary supplements of "Good Living Products" are really produced, if the company exists at all or if it is also just fake. We can only state what we know from our research: that the products sold via the online store Baaboo are of dubious origin and that a dense network of fake health magazines promotes these products. Fake reviews are intended to lure consumers. It remains unclear who plays and operates these magazines.
Why is it so difficult to take action against these fake health magazines??
According to Martin Bolm, in-house lawyer at the Central Office for Combating Unfair Competition, the difficult traceability is the problem. Because the contact data in the Impressen lead into the emptiness, the Website operators cover their identity in addition by anonymization services, so that cannot be found out, who is behind the individual Domains. From a legal point of view, however, it is only possible to take action against such portals if one has a tangible contact person.
In terms of content, Bolm agrees with FITBOOK's research, the self-proclaimed health portals are likely vulnerable on several counts. Thus the suspicion of surreptitious advertisement would exist. Possibly violations of the law on the advertising of medicinal products or food law. It is also not permissible to declare articles in which certain products are described as product tests if they are not tested objectively according to predefined criteria, explains Bolm.
How can I tell if a health magazine is reputable??
Who relies in health questions on unseriose web pages, is not well advised. Who wants to take dietary supplements that, in case of doubt, harm their own health instead of improving it?? It is not always possible to tell immediately whether a health magazine is passing on serious information or whether it is an unsafe source. But there are always certain indications that a site is trustworthy or not, explains Dr. Britta Schautz of the consumer center Berlin.
What's in the imprint?
The imprint must state who is the author or responsible for the content of the website. Because missing, wrong and incomplete information in the imprint are considered as an offence, explains the Federal Ministry for justice and consumer protection on FITBOOK inquiry. Serious health portals give name and address, provide contact details like email address or phone number. If necessary, the legal form and authorized representatives, the responsible supervisory authority and registration number are mentioned. A quick Google check can help find out if the responsible parties and address exist.
Are the experts genuine??
Medical or nutritional experts should always be quoted with their last name and function. For anyone who is a luminary in a particular field is probably also quoted in other specialist journals, has published reports or studies himself, has his own website or is mentioned on the website of a research institution. If this is not the case, caution is required.
Is there evidence?
Are the product or its ingredients advertised as "demonstrably" effective?? Then this should be scientifically proven by appropriate studies. If these studies are not available, however, the promised effectiveness has not been proven by the magazine. Consumers should always be cautious when products advertise incredible goodness. "Food offers no protection against illness and cannot work miracles," warns Schautz. If you are not sure whether a certain supplement is at all beneficial to your health, you can find out more at "Klartext Nahrungserganzung" (plain text nutritional supplements). The website of the consumer centers is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. It clarifies comprehensively about advantages. Dangers of individual ingredients on.
Does the site promote specific products?
"When test portals link to stores, you should always be careful. Because that doesn't speak for independent judgment," says Schautz. For serious test portals examine and evaluate products, but a purchase recommendation is not given. So if a website makes a direct purchase recommendation and also links to an online store, it's probably part of an affiliate program. If someone clicks on the link and buys a product from the advertised store, the website receives payment. Something like this needs to be identified as advertising.
Have you had any negative experiences with any of the websites mentioned above? Then write to us at: [email protected].