I have written about blog spammers multiple times. I had hoped that with time this repugnant technique for driving traffic would have died out, but no such luck.
Looked at my list of followers today, and the top ones are displayed here:
Every single one of these is a sleazy-looking marketing website. By following my blog, I assume they hope either a) I will follow them back, or b) this will somehow raise their rankings in Google or other search engines. A few examples of what you find if you happen to click their links:
Seriously, people? This is not how to advertise your businesses. It’s definitely a dick move, and is a solid guarantee that I will never ever use your services or do business with you.
“Research has recently discovered an incredibly effective way to shrink your prostate,” trumpets the landing page. “We don’t know how long this video will be up, the medical industry sure does not like it… watch it now while you can.”
Well, just because I am concerned about prostate issues, I did watch it. But now I want that hour of my life back. The first thing that annoyed me is that there’s no progress bar, so you can’t skip to the money shot at the end. You have to watch the. whole. thing.
So I did. And here’s this guy dressed in a doctor’s coat, spewing the awfullest marketing drivel I have ever heard, mostly involving scare tactics about what could happen if your enlarged prostate is not treated, and how ineffective / painful / inconvenient / expensive traditional treatments are.
For years, the good doctor (I looked him up, and find absolutely no hits on Google for his name) “wrecked his brain” [sic] regarding a better solution, and after 40 minutes or so of frightening you into thinking you’re going to die, finally introduces his own “Prostate well-being formulation” which is affordable and effective.
The remainder of the video discusses all the ingredients at length and makes significant claims for all of them. (Yes, the official website includes the standard “Nutritional Miranda” popularized by Orrin Hatch, to wit:
“Statements made by Mediamap Limited, PhytoThriveLabs and Fluxactive Complete have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA does not evaluate or test herbs. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease.”
but it’s well-hidden in a separate disclaimer page. And, this product is nothing more than a compendium of herbs (a formula “based on decades of science”), not one of which has any tested and proven effect on prostate health.
But hey, we’ve got over 60,000 customers, so it’s got to be good, right? Right?
Some of the claims made during the course of this video imply:
Stop prostate cell growth
Reduce insulin levels
Cayenne, Vitamin E
Rare and powerful anti-inflammatory effects
Bulletproof your prostate
Rejuvenate your DNA, reduce arthritis
Enhance blood flow
Increase ability to pee
Increase sexual function – transform you into a MAN as well
Increase libido and quality of erections.
Add years if not decades to your life expectancy
Regain your dignity (Today is your last chance!)
Feel a surge of energy you haven’t felt in decades
Repair inflammation and cellular damage over time
Achieve the prostate of a 20-year-old
Then comes the financial pitch. “I don’t care about money, says the good doctor. “I just want to help people.” Customers have told me they would pay thousands of dollars for a single bottle. 🐂 💩
“For a limited time (scarcity) this is the largest discount I’ve ever offered. Buy the multiple-bottle discount packages. One-time offer! Buy the multi-pack today to avoid future disappointments and price increases. Order at least three bottles! But if you don’t want [horrible symptoms], take advantage of our 6 bottle package! Make the right investment in your health. Act NOW while supplies last, because we may discontinue production any day now if we can’t make this great formulation. (scarcity) If you don’t, you’ll be hooked for life and pay large money for treatment, including that $30,000 surgery. The longer you wait, the greater your risk of complications like Urinary Tract Infections, Testicular Tumors, and a whole host of others. Time is running out! Buy this Product. Make the Right Decision! I’m not trying to scare you, these are real risks of doing nothing.
The video claims to offer a 60-day risk free money-back guarantee, even if you return empty bottles. But! The official return policy (also buried in a totally non-obvious link) says:
“All items purchased online can be returned within 60 days after they have been received by you. We accept returns of all unopened items within 60 days of receiving them for a full refund minus any shipping fees.”
So I would suggest you might have a hard time returning empty bottles for a refund, even if the product did nothing for you.
But wait, there’s more!
Act right away and complete order in the next 5 minutes, get the Fast action Upgrade Kit (questionable digital documents that cost them nothing)
Biohacking secrets ($97.00) – hack your mind and body with modern techniques
Supercharge your body ($97.00) – Charge your immune system, best exercises, foods to adopt
Includes 20 helpful videos
1-day detox miracle guide – ($67.00) – only need to use it once a month. Flush out the toxins. Designed to flush out all heavy metals and other toxins. ¹
10 ways to turbocharge your Testosterone ($67.00)
Results will vary. But these ingredients will have same effects on everyone. Guaranteed. This remedy will work for you. Absolutely. But you have the 60-day money-back guarantee. “The information presented on or through the Website is made available solely for general information purposes. The Company is not making any warranty about the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this information. Any reliance you place on that information is strictly at your own risk. The Company disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on those materials by you or any other visitor to the Website, or by anyone who may be informed of any of its contents.”
In other words, “Let the buyer beware.”
So what’s in this miracle formulation?
All of these ingredients are claimed in various places to have all sorts of health benefits. None, if any, have been rigorously scientifically proven with double-blind, randomized, placebo-based trials. But the herbal supplement global market is a $30 billion affair, and far too many producers want a slice of that pie regardless of how effective their products are, and as long as they include the “nutritional Miranda,” the FDA can’t touch them.
It’s hard for the average consumer to get accurate information about any given product. Go to google and type in “Fluxactive Complete scam or legit” and you’ll get pages and pages of things like this… all placed by affiliate marketers. The bottom line of these pages is “Buy this product now so that I can get a commission on the sale.” And these are the top results, thanks to black-hat SEO techniques which have essentially ruined searches on the internet.
Even YouTube is awash with deceptive videos:
And there are literally pages of these, each posted by affiliate marketers. Each one of these claims to show that FluxActive Complete is a scam, but in the end they recommend that you purchase the product through their affiliate link, hoping to make a commission on the sale.
From a product analysis website in India:
“There’s a lot of attention around Fluxactive, so is it a fraud or a real health supplement? At this point, it’s uncertain. What is known is that the product has not yet been subjected to scientific testing, and some users have reported negative consequences after using it, such as a rash and nausea. While Fluxactive Complete may be beneficial to some people, it is not a full health care and should be treated with caution.”
The sad part of this whole deal is that there are virtually thousands of herbal nostrums, placebos, and nocebos² being marketed in this way. Until the nutritional market can be appropriately regulated, which means repealing Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, Nutritional supplements need to be treated like drugs, not food. Sadly, the lobbying effort to preserve this status is massive, given the quantities of money to be made on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other supplements.
The sad part of this whole deal is that there are virtually thousands of herbal nostrums, placebos, and nocebos² being marketed in this way. Until the nutritional market can be appropriately regulated, which means repealing Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, Nutritional supplements need to be treated like drugs, not food. Sadly, the lobbying effort to preserve this status is massive, given the quantities of money to be made on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other supplements.
The bottom line: Be careful out there, and make good choices with your health. Don’t waste money on compounds that are advertised in this manner. Consult your doctor. If this were really an effective way of treating enlarged prostates, the medical machine would be all over it.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ Heavy metal poisoning is treated with chelating agents such as:
Dimercaptosuccinic acid (succimer).
Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA).
.Heavy metal poisoning cannot be treated with herbs, minerals, or other “natural” remedies, despite many such claims.
² A nocebo is a treatment that has negative effects upon the patient rather than the desired benefit.
There’s a section about “What You’ll Need,” with the ever-present disclaimer:
All products featured on Bon Appétit are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through the retail links below, we earn an affiliate commission.
So let’s see what we’ll need to make this recipe:
All of these products, lovingly chosen by Bon Appétit’s editors, were selected not for utility but to generate the maximum possible revenue for the website’s owners. I mention this because in order to purchase every one of these items at the listed links (with the exception of the Bon Appétit Market which is currently 404), you would need to shell out $314.00… and Bon Appétit would earn a commission on all of those sales.
I pity the poor wights who come to this page and think they need to buy all of these utensils before they can make the recipe; almost every item on this list could be had at Dollar Tree for $1.25 each (you’d have to go to Walmart or somewhere similar for a 1-quart saucepan for $8.97 instead of $155.00 at Amazon), and the digital scale isn’t even used in the recipe unless you’d rather measure 625 grams of flour instead of 5 cups.
The Internet is an amazing source of information, but overshadowing everything is the commercialization of any possible space. I remember one of the earliest and cleverest examples of turning the Internet into a cash cow, the “Million Dollar Homepage.”
Every pixel on this page sold out, meaning whoever came up with this idea made off with a cool million. It’s interesting to go back in time and revisit the purchasers (many of which are now defunct), and to wonder if that investment in an odd form of advertising ever converted into sales… but I doubt it.
Advertising in general is expensive and largely ineffective; the best websites hit around an 11% conversion rate, but the average landing page conversion rate is 2.35%. That means that 97% of the money a company spends on internet advertising or a web presence goes directly into the sewer. The ones who make that money are the advertising providers.
The monetization of everything on the Internet seems to be unavoidable, but from where I sit, it’s exhausting.
Back in 2013, I wrote about “junk followers” on WordPress, fake or empty or commercial accounts who use bots to follow every blog they possible can in hopes of more exposure for themselves.
Just in case you were wondering, this is a scummy thing to do, right up there with spam-bombing other people’s blogs with backlinks to your own scummy commercial blog.
I have over 1700 followers, and I’ll bet that I don’t have more than a couple of dozen who are really interested in my content. The rest are simply using tricks to improve their own rankings and drive web traffic to their sites. I don’t really care about numbers, since I have no intention of monetizing this blog, but a lot of my focus is trying to reduce spam, scams, and fraud, and warn people about how to avoid being taken advantage of. And this kind of thing is just like a burr under my saddle.
If you’re a blogger, don’t do this. Don’t use bots to “like” or “follow” everything in site in order to boost your own presence. It stinks, and it makes you look cheap and disreputable.
When I was 10 years old, my mom brought home a box of Life™, a new brand of cereal produced by Quaker Oats. I fell in love with it at once; it was sweet but not too sweet, crunchy but not too crunchy, with a little hint of softness to it, and it had a unique flavor that I found completely appealing.
Life is still out there, even though it has been reformulated a few times. But the worst change came in 1997 when Quaker introduced a “new, improved” Life, and then the world collapsed around their ears. I, like many other aficionados, wrote to Quaker screaming, “You’ve ruined my life!” It was completely different, nothing like the original, and it failed so spectacularly that the company went back to the original formulation and sent out an apology letter to those who had complained. Since then, except for the introduction or trial of a few additional flavors, their product has remained pretty much the same. But I wish I could have the original formula back.
Now we come to Tums™. I’ve suffered heartburn for a long, long time and always had to have a supply of something or other around to put out the fire (this was in the days before the beta-blockers and PPI’s.) Originally I used Rolaids (which absorbs 47 times its weight in excess stomach acid!) but always found it a bit too chalky for my taste, ultimately switching to Tums as an alternative.
I carry around this little jawn on my keyring that would hold 5 or 6 Tums of the 750mg variety, and was partial to the assorted berries flavor. I would buy them at WalMart, but for the last year or so they stopped selling these in favor of the 1000mg strength, which didn’t fit my keyring doodad.
So I was delighted to find a bunch of the 750 strength at RiteAid’s website, and bought 10 bottles, thinking that this would last me probably for the rest of my life. To my horror, they are nothing like the Tums I used to know. Chalky, bland, and with a flavor that made me think they had scooped up a bunch of the blue stuff you find in airplane toilets and turned it into tablets. The aftertaste was even worse.
Here’s a rundown of what changed:
So essentially they added crospovidone, dextrose, magnesium stearate and maltodextrin, and dropped the mineral oil and sodium polyphosphate. No way to tell what changed in the “flavors” category, because they never tell you such things. But in all honesty, the result is the abomination of desolation, and now I’m stuck with 10 bottles of a product that makes me want to gag. I’d rather go back to Rolaids than keep using these.
I called Glaxo Smith Kline at their customer service number, and politely expressed my unhappiness; I’m aware the agent has virtually nothing to do with such things, but I was gratified that the agent had the honesty to tell me I’m not the only one who has called in to express dissatisfaction with the new formula. So it’s not just me.
I shouldn’t have to keeps saying this, but far too many people just don’t practice “safe computing’ and as a result end up getting their computers infected by malware, losing their data, having their information stolen by criminals, being robbed, or all of the above.
Red flag #1: This message is not from Venmo. The email address of the sender is “firstname.lastname@example.org” which is not a venmo address; the domain leads to an essentially empty storefront of a generic “church.” Either the domain was created for the purpose of scamming people, or an otherwise unrelated domain was hijacked to have malicious content injected into its directory structure, or the email address was simply spoofed. In any case, it’s a clear indication that this email is not from Venmo.
Red Flag #2: “Congratulation.” Uh, no. That’s not what a message written by English-speakers would say. We’re dealing with Nigerian scammers here, or something similar.
Red flag #3: The link on the “accept money” button looks like this:
If you hover your mouse over any button or link in an email, the actual address where you will be taken will be shown at the bottom of your browser (at least that’s where it is in Chrome.) However, most of these deceptive links will re-direct one or more times, so you really never know where you’ll end up. But if the original link is not a “venmo.com” address, then you know you’re being taken for a ride.
Red Flag #4: “Click her” I suspect she, whoever she might be, will not appreciate being clicked. Real emails from real corporations do not generally contain obvious typographical errors like this.
So, as is my wont, I clicked on the “Accept Money” link just to go down the rabbit hole and see where I ended up. Malwarebytes told me the page was malicious, but I’m pretty well protected so I advanced anyway.
Instead of getting any money through Venmo (which I didn’t expect), I ended up on a “survey” page.
Again, not from Venmo, but camouflaged to look as though it is. All of the “verified” comments are without doubt spurious. The questions below are carefully crafted to keep the illusion going that the survey is from Venmo. It ain’t.
So once you give your answers, you end up at a “reward” page with 26 different offers you can claim. But beware – every single one of these is as phony as Donald Trump’s tan, and if you claim any of them you will end up paying a lot of money for next to no value.
Limited Supply! Act fast, offer expiring! [These are the “scarcity” and “urgency” sales ploys.]
This is the first reward on the list. Check the “Terms and Conditions:”
By placing an order, you agree our special deal club and we will bill you $0.00 S&H + $6.98 = Total: $6.98 (one-time purchase, no auto-ship) plus tax where applicable for your initial order, and every thirty days thereafter we will send you a new product from our special deal club, and automatically bill you the low price of $0.00 S&H + $6.98 = Total: $6.98 (one-time purchase, no auto-ship) plus tax where applicable.
So you’re getting a really cheap fitness tracker for 7 bucks, and committing yourself to getting another piece of slum [that’s what the carnival hucksters call the cheapest prizes they hand out] for another 7 bucks every 30 days, until you catch on and cancel. Which will be hard to do, I can guarantee it. And, you’ve given your contact information and your credit card number to extremely disreputable people. I cannot count the number of ways that this is a bad idea.
A couple of rows down is an offer for an iPad Pro. But again, after you give them your information so that they can spam you forever, you read the “Terms and Conditions:”
Claim your chance now! Sign up for a 30-day trial to Best Tech Giveaways and get the chance to win a new iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard! This contest is not made by or in cooperation with Apple. The winner will be contacted directly by email. All new customers participate in the prize draw for the shown campaign product. If you are the lucky winner, you will be contacted directly by email. This special offer comes with a 30-day trial to an affiliated subscription service, after which the subscription fee (37.97 USD every 30 days) will be automatically deducted from your credit card. If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with the service, you may cancel your account within 30 days. The service will be renewed every 30 days until canceled. This campaign will expire on December 31, 2021. If you wish to participate without signing up for a 30-day trial to besttechgiveaways, please send an email to email@example.com.
What you’ve “won” is a chance. Your odds of winning that iPad are about the same as hitting the Powerball. Don’t hold your breath.
You might end up at another similar website whose small-print terms are like this:
As a user of Blue Ice Group, you agree to a deeply discounted LIMITED user fee of nine dollars and ninety-five cents ($9.95), the LIMITED user price. If you’re happy in approximately 7 days you will receive an email offer to purchase 30 days for our low one-time price of eighty-six dollars and sixty-one cents ($86.61), the 30 day FULL PLAN. We will continue to send you offer to purchase upon expiration of your user terms via text or email (data rates may apply) approximately every 28 days simply reply N to postpone, please allow up to 10 days to process your payment. You can continue to view our Premium Content including exclusive games, beta games, motivational content, exercise videos, diet, nutrition and other VIP Benefits unless you choose to cancel. You may cancel your purchase anytime by contacting our customer support center by email, or toll-free telephone (877) 327-2393. THE WEBSITE IS ALLOWED TO COLLECT AND STORE DATA AND INFORMATION FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE USUAL OPERATIONS AND FUNCTIONS OF THE WEBSITE.
So you’re authorizing a ten-dollar charge for the privilege of being sent offers, and will likely be charged $81.61 every month until you raise the alarm.
No money from Venmo, just a lot of scammy, spammy malvertising and potentially dangerous websites.
I have written often and at length about fraudulent enterprises and scams, and I am sharing this one here because it deserves to be seen far and wide.
Full disclosure: I was part of a network marketing / MLM / Relationship Marketing firm for about 10 years. I cannot believe how hard I drank the Kool-Aid™. I am ashamed. But it just goes to show how seductive these things can be.
‘Magic dirt’: How the internet fueled, and defeated, the pandemic’s weirdest company
(From NBC News)
Thu, December 2, 2021, 7:49 AM•21 min readThe social media posts started in May: photos and videos of smiling people, mostly women, drinking Mason jars of black liquid, slathering black paste on their faces and feet, or dipping babies and dogs in tubs of the black water. They tagged the posts #BOO and linked to a website that sold a product called Black Oxygen Organics.
Black Oxygen Organics, or “BOO” for short, is difficult to classify. It was marketed as fulvic acid, a compound derived from decayed plants, that was dug up from an Ontario peat bog. The website of the Canadian company that sold it billed it as “the end product and smallest particle of the decomposition of ancient, organic matter.”
Put more simply, the product is dirt — four-and-a-half ounces of it, sealed in a sleek black plastic baggie and sold for $110 plus shipping. Visitors to the Black Oxygen Organics website, recently taken offline, were greeted with a pair of white hands cradling cups of dirt like an offering. “A gift from the Ground,” it reads. “Drink it. Wear it. Bathe in it.”
BOO, which “can be taken by anyone at any age, as well as animals,” according to the company, claims many benefits and uses, including improved brain function and heart health, and ridding the body of so-called toxins that include heavy metals, pesticides and parasites.
By the end of the summer, online ads for BOO had made their way to millions of people within the internet subcultures that embrace fringe supplements, including the mixed martial arts community, anti-vaccine and Covid-denier groups, and finally more general alternative health and fake cure spaces.
And people seemed to be buying; parts of TikTok and Instagram were flooded with #BOO posts. The businessman behind Black Oxygen Organics has been selling mud in various forms for 25 years now, but BOO sold in amounts that surprised even its own executives, according to videos of company meetings viewed by NBC News.
The stars appeared aligned for it. A pandemic marked by unprecedented and politicized misinformation has spurred a revival in wonder cures. Well-connected Facebook groups of alternative health seekers and vaccine skeptics provided an audience and eager customer base for a new kind of medicine show. And the too-good-to-be-true testimonials posted to social media attracted a wave of direct sellers, many of them women dipping their toes into the often unprofitable world of multilevel marketing for the first time.
But success came at a price. Canadian and U.S. health regulators have cracked down on BOO in recent months, initiating recalls and product holds at the border, respectively. And just as an online army of fans powered BOO’s success, an oppositional force of online skeptics threatened to shut it down.
Just before Thanksgiving, the company announced in an email it was closing up shop for good. Sellers packed video calls mourning the death of their miracle cure, railing against executives who had taken their money and seemingly run, and wondering how they might recoup the thousands of dollars they paid for BOO that never arrived.
The announcement was the apparent end of one of the most haltingly successful companies to ride a wave of interest in online and directly sold alternative medicines — immunity-boosting oils, supplements, herbs, elixirs and so-called superfoods that, despite widespread concerns over their efficacy and safety, make up a lightly regulated, multibillion-dollar industry.
In a world where consumers flock to alternative health products, BOO seemed to provide an answer to the question: Just how far are people willing to dig to find their miracle cure?
What is BOO?
Monica Wong first learned about BOO in May. The 39-year-old was scrolling Facebook from her home in Brentwood, California, and saw a Facebook ad that caught her eye: A woman in a bright green shirt emblazoned with a marijuana leaf holding a sign that read, “F— Big Pharma!” alongside a kind of treatment that promised to “detox heavy metals.”
Wong had been looking for such a product, for her boyfriend and herself, and while the price was steep, a little internet research convinced her that the health effects would be worth it. Wong clicked on the ad and bought some BOO.
Wong said that for two months she dissolved a half-teaspoon of the black stuff in a glass of water and drank it every day. But unlike people in her new BOO Facebook group who posted miraculous testimonials of cured diseases, weight loss, clearer skin, whiter teeth, regrown hair, reclaimed energy, expelled worms and even changes in eye color (from brown to blue), Wong didn’t feel like any toxins were leaving her body. In fact, she started having stomach pains.
“I can’t say it was the BOO for sure,” Wong said she remembers wondering as she went to the hospital for tests, “but wasn’t it supposed to heal my gut?”
Wong quit taking BOO and told the head of her Facebook group, a higher-ranked seller who earned commission off Wong’s participation, about her new pains. When asked why she didn’t alert others, Wong said the group administrators, BOO sellers themselves, censored the comments to weed out anything negative. “They’d never let me post that,” she said.
These online groups are filled with true believers, acolytes who call it “magic dirt.” They post that they are drinking, cooking, soaking, snorting and slathering BOO on their bodies and giving it to their families, children and pets.
“Who would have thought drinking dirt would make me feel so so good?” one person in a 27,000-member private Facebook group posted, her face nuzzling a jar of black liquid.
Another user posted a photo of a baby sitting in a bathtub of water colored a deep caramel. In the caption, she shared that the baby had contracted hand, foot and mouth disease — a virus that mainly affects children and causes painful sores. “Tiny is enjoying his Boo bath!” she wrote. “We’re happy to say our bottom feels happier and we’re in a better mood!”
Many such posts are dedicated to tactics for getting kids and loved ones to take BOO.
“Boo brownies for the picky family,” one poster offered.
Testimonials like these make up the majority of posts in dozens of Facebook groups, set up and overseen by BOO sellers, with hundreds of thousands of collective members, where BOO is heralded as a miracle drug. Teams of sellers in these private Facebook groups claim that, beyond cosmetic applications, BOO can cure everything from autism to cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. Conveniently in these times, BOO proponents say it also protects against and treats Covid-19, and can be used to “detox” the newly vaccinated, according to posts viewed by NBC News.
None of the posters contacted by NBC News returned a request for comment. But there may be an incentive for the hyperbole.
The MLM boom
Black Oxygen Organics products can’t be bought in stores. Instead, the pills and powders are sold by individuals, who theoretically profit not only off their sales but off those of others they recruit. It’s the type of top-down and widening profit-modeled business, known as multilevel marketing or MLM, that has led critics to label BOO and products like it pyramid schemes.
Participation in MLMs boomed during the pandemic with 7.7 million Americans working for one in 2020, a 13 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Direct Selling Association, the trade and lobbying group for the MLM industry. Wellness products make up the majority of MLM products, and, as the Federal Trade Commission noted, some direct sellers took advantage of a rush toward so-called natural remedies during the pandemic to boost sales.
More than 99 percent of MLM sellers lose money, according to the Consumer Awareness Institute, an industry watchdog group. But according to social media posts, BOO’s business was booming. In selfies and videos posted to Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, women lather BOO on their faces and soak their feet in sludge-filled pasta pots while, they claim, the money rolls in.
Black Oxygen Organics’ compensation plan, like most MLMs, is convoluted. According to their company handbook, sellers, called “brand partners,” can earn income in two distinct ways: through retail commissions on bags of BOO they sell, and through recruiting other sellers, from which they earn additional commission and bonuses. The more recruits a seller brings in, the more quickly the seller rises in the ranks — there are 10 titles in the company, from brand partner to director to CEO, with compensation packages growing along the way.
A common strategy for MLM participants, including BOO sellers, is to create Facebook groups to collaborate and attract new customers.
“I earned $21,000 in bonuses in my first 5 weeks!” one post read. “I am a single mom, 1 income family, this business was the best decision!!!”
Black Oxygen Organics’ vice president of business development, Ron Montaruli, described the craze in September, telling distributors on a Zoom call viewed by NBC News that the company had attracted 21,000 sellers and 38,000 new customers. Within the last six months, sales had rocketed from $200,000 a month to nearly $4 million, Montaruli said, referring to a chart that showed the same. (Attempts to reach Montaruli were unsuccessful.)
Facts around the company’s actual income are as hazy as the mud it sells, but the secret to dealing dirt seems to be Facebook, where sellers have created dozens of individual groups that have attracted a hodgepodge of hundreds of thousands of members.
The largest BOO Facebook groups, including one with over 97,000 members, are led mostly by MLM jumpers, the term for people who sell a range of MLM products. The groups have also attracted more general alternative health consumers, as well as people seemingly suffering from delusional parasitosis, a condition characterized by the misguided belief that one’s body is being overrun by parasites. Users in these groups mimic activity in anti-parasite internet groups by dosing according to phases of the moon and posting photos of dirty water from foot baths or human waste from toilets asking others to identify a mystery worm.
Facebook did not respond to requests for comment on the BOO groups or whether their claims violated the company’s content policies.
In the last several months, the groups have seen a rise in members from anti-vaccine and Covid-denial communities, including prominent activists who sell the product to raise funds for anti-vaccine efforts.
A profile of one top seller featured in BOO’s semiregular glossy magazine, “The Bog,” noted that Covid had drawn more people to the industry.
“It’s been kind of a blessing,” the seller said.
While it undoubtedly attracted sales and built teams, Facebook also created a unique problem for Black Oxygen Organics: Those testimonials might have violated federal law that requires efficacy claims be substantiated by “competent and reliable scientific evidence.” They also attracted attention, not only from customers, but from health professionals, regulatory agencies and a group BOO executives have dubbed “the haters.”
After a summer of unbridled success, the internet backlash began.
The rise of MLMs online prompted criticism from some people who have created informal activist groups to bring awareness to what they say are the predatory practices of MLM companies and organized campaigns to disrupt specific businesses. Many of the groups use the same social media techniques to organize their responses.
Online activists who oppose MLMs formed Facebook groups targeting BOO for its claims. Members of these groups infiltrated the BOO community, signing up as sellers, joining pro-BOO groups, and attending BOO sales meetings, then reporting back what they had seen to the group. They posted videos of the company meetings and screenshots from the private BOO sales groups and urged members to file official complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.
YouTube creators made videos debunking BOO peddlers’ most outrageous claims, ridiculing BOO executives and making public recordings of the private company meetings.
Ceara Manchester, a stay-at-home mother in Pompano Beach, Florida, helps run one of the largest anti-BOO Facebook groups, “Boo is Woo.” Manchester, 34, has spent the last four years monitoring predatory MLMs — or “cults,” in her view — and posting to multiple social media accounts and groups dedicated to “exposing” Black Oxygen Organics.
“The health claims, I had never seen them that bad,” Manchester said. “Just the sheer amount. Every single post was like, ‘cancer, Covid, diabetes, autism.’”
“I don’t feel like people are stupid,” Manchester said of the people who purchased and even sold BOO. “I think that they’re desperate or vulnerable, or they’ve been preyed upon, and you get somebody to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this product that cures everything.’ You know when you’re desperate like that you might listen.”
Black Oxygen Organics is the brainchild of Marc Saint-Onge, a 59-year-old entrepreneur from Casselman, Ontario. Saint-Onge, BOO’s founder and CEO, did not respond to calls, texts, emails or direct messages.
But decades of interviews in local press and more recently on social media offer some details about Saint-Onge, or, as he likes to be called, “the mudman.”
Saint-Onge describes himself as an orthotherapist, naturopath, kinesitherapist, reiki master, holistic practitioner, herbalist and aromatherapist. As he said in a video posted to YouTube that has since been made private, his love of mud began as a child, chasing bullfrogs around Ontario bogs. Years later, he went on to practice orthotherapy, a kind of advanced massage technique, to treat pain. He said he packaged dirt from a local bog, branches and leaves included, in zip-lock baggies and gave them to his “patients,” who demanded the mud faster than he could scoop it.
Saint-Onge said he was charged by Canadian authorities with practicing medicine without a license in 1989 and fined $20,000.
“Then my clinic went underground,” he said on a recent podcast.
He has sold mud in some form since the early 1990s. Health Canada, the government regulator responsible for public health, forced him to pull an early version of his mud product, then called the “Anti-Rheuma Bath,” according to a 1996 article in The Calgary Herald, because Saint-Onge marketed it to treat arthritis and rheumatism without any proof to substantiate the claims. Saint-Onge also claimed his mud could heal wounds, telling an Ottawa Citizen reporter in 2012 that his mud compress healed the leg of a man who had suffered an accident with a power saw, saving it from amputation.
“The doctor said it was the antibiotics,” he said. “But we believe it was the mud.”
In the ‘90s Saint-Onge began selling his mud bath under the “Golden Moor” label, which he did until he realized a dream, “a way to do a secret little extraction,” in his words, that would make the dirt dissolve in water. In 2015, with the founding of his company NuWTR, which would later turn into Black Oxygen Organics, Saint-Onge said he finally invented a dirt people could drink.
In 2016, he began selling himself as a business coach, and his personal website boasted of his worth: “I sell mud in a bottle,” he wrote. “Let me teach you to sell anything.”
In September, Montaruli, BOO’s vice president, led a corporate call to address the Facebook groups and what he called “the compliance situation.”
“Right now, it’s scary,” Montaruli said in a Zoom call posted publicly, referring to the outlandish claims made by some of BOO’s sellers. “In 21 years, I have never seen anything like this. Never.”
“These outrageous claims, and I’m not even sure if outrageous is bad enough, are obviously attracting the haters, giving them more fuel for the fire, and potential government officials.”
Montaruli called for “a reset,” telling BOO sellers to delete the pages and groups and start over again.
One slide suggested alternatives for 14 popular BOO uses, including switching terms like ADHD to “trouble concentrating,” and “prevents heart attack” to “maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.”
And so in September, the Facebook groups evolved — many went private, most changed their names from BOO to “fulvic acid,” and the pinned testimonials from customers claiming miracle cures were wiped clean, tweaked or edited to add a disclaimer absolving the company from any liability.
But that wasn’t the end of the company’s troubles. While individual sellers navigated their new compliance waters, regulatory agencies cracked down.
Days after Montaruli’s call, Health Canada announced a recall of Black Oxygen Organics tablets and powders, citing “potential health risks which may be higher for children, adolescents, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.” Further, the regulatory agency noted, “The products are being promoted in ways and for uses that have not been evaluated and authorized by Health Canada.”
“Stop taking these products,” the announcement advised.
Inventory for U.S. customers had already been hard to come by. In private groups, sellers claimed the product had sold out, but in the company-wide call, Montaruli confirmed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was holding its products at the border.
Jeremy Kahn, an FDA spokesperson, declined to comment.
Saint-Onge did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News. Phone messages and emails sent by a reporter to the company, its executives and its legal counsel were not returned.
What’s in BOO?
BOO is not the only dirt-like health supplement on the market. Consumers have the option of dozens of products — in drops, tablets, powders and pastes — that claim to provide the healing power of fulvic and humic acid.
Fulvic and humic acids have been used in traditional and folk medicines for centuries, and do exhibit antibacterial qualities in large quantities. But there is little scientific evidence to support the kinds of claims made by BOO sellers, according to Brian Bennett, a professor of physics at Marquette University who has studied fulvic and humic acids as a biochemist.
“I would say it’s snake oil,” Bennett said. “There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that a pharmaceutical based on the characteristics of this material might actually work, but I think eating handfuls of soil probably doesn’t.”
Beyond the questions of the health benefits of fulvic acid, there’s the question of just what is in Black Oxygen Organics’ product.
The company’s most recent certificate of analysis, a document meant to show what a product is made of and in what amounts, was posted by sellers this year. Reporting the product makeup as mostly fulvic acid and Vitamin C, the report comes from 2017 and doesn’t list a lab, or even a specific test. NBC News spoke to six environmental scientists, each of whom expressed skepticism at the quality of BOO’s certificate.
Assuming the company-provided analysis was correct, two of the scientists confirmed that just two servings of BOO exceeded Health Canada’s daily limits for lead, and three servings — a dose recommended on the package — approached daily arsenic limits. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no comparable daily guidelines.
In an effort to verify BOO’s analysis, NBC News procured a bag and sent it to Nicholas Basta, a professor of soil and environmental science at Ohio State University.
The BOO product was analyzed for the presence of heavy metals at Ohio State’s Trace Element Research Laboratory. Results from that test were similar to the company’s 2017 certificate, finding two doses per day exceeded Health Canada’s limit for lead, and three doses for daily arsenic amounts.
Growing concern among BOO sellers about the product — precipitated by an anti-MLM activist who noticed on Google Earth that the bog that sourced BOO’s peat appeared to share a border with a landfill — pushed several to take matters into their own hands, sending bags of BOO to labs for testing.
The results of three of these tests, viewed by NBC News and confirmed as seemingly reliable by two soil scientists at U.S. universities, again showed elevated levels of lead and arsenic.
Those results are the backbone of a federal lawsuit seeking class action status filed in November in Georgia’s Northern District court. The complaint, filed on behalf of four Georgia residents who purchased BOO, claims that the company negligently sold a product with “dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals,” which led to physical and economic harm.
Black Oxygen Organics did not respond to requests for comment concerning the complaint.
‘A heavy heart’
The lawsuit hit at an inopportune time, just as the company had “reformulated” its products and added a new label on the powder that now specifies the product is “not for human consumption.”
“Things are starting to settle a little bit,” BOO executive Montaruli said in a video meeting explaining a change from tablet to capsules and a relabeling of the powder.
The powder is “strictly for cosmetics,” Saint-Onge said on the call, a recording of which was shared with NBC News by an attendee.
In the BOO groups, the company’s sellers were undeterred.
“You can continue to use the powder as you choose in your own home,” the admin of one Facebook group wrote to members announcing the product update. “Know that it is the same powder.”
“We cannot TECHNICALLY tell customers to use the product internally,” Adam Ringham, a “Royal Diamond CEO” (BOO’s highest seller title), told his group. “WE CAN HOWEVER — tell them that the powder is THE EXACT SAME as before … ”
Ringham did not return requests for comment.
Just as the BOO sellers were planning their Black Friday sales, the rug was pulled out from them again, this time, seemingly, for good.
Two days before Thanksgiving, an email landed in the inboxes of BOO customers and sellers.
“It is with a heavy heart that we must announce the immediate closing of Black Oxygen Organics,” it read. Details in the note were sparse, but Black Oxygen executives and employees offered an explanation in company Zoom meetings that afternoon.
According to BOO President Carlo Garibaldi, they had weathered the FTC complaints, the FDA seizures, the Health Canada recalls and the online mob. But the “fatal blow” came when their online merchant dropped them as clients.
With no actual product in stock for the last two months, sellers had been urging customers to “preorder” BOO. Now, the throng of customers responding to the nonconsumable “reformulation” by asking for their money back had spooked their payment processor.
“This is our baby,” Garibaldi said, flashing his Black Oxygen elbow tattoo to the screen. “We needed this to go on forever.”
Saint-Onge appeared briefly, holding his head in his hands. “This was my limit,” he said.
Members of anti-BOO groups celebrated.
“WE DID IT!!!!!!” Manchester, the group administrator, posted to the “Boo is Woo” Facebook group. “I hope this is proof positive that if the anti-MLM community bans together we can take these companies down. We won’t stop with just BOO. A new age of anti-MLM activism has just begun.”
In a separate Zoom meeting unattended by executives and shared with NBC News, lower-rung sellers grappled with the sudden closure and the reality that they were out hundreds or thousands of dollars.
“I am three weeks to a month away from having a baby and I’ve been depending on this money to arrive in my bank account,” one seller said through tears. “It’s the only income we have.”
The future of BOO is uncertain. Tens of thousands of bags remain in warehouses, according to Black Oxygen executives. Sellers are unlikely to receive orders, refunds or commissions. The federal lawsuit will continue, Matt Wetherington, the Georgia lawyer behind the proposed class action lawsuit, said.
But in the land of MLMs, failure is just another opportunity. Saint-Onge may have walked away from this cohort of customers, but for those who sold it, BOO was more than just a product; it was a way of believing. Now, the thousands of BOO acolytes still convening in BOO Facebook groups are funneling into a new Facebook group, named “The Solution,” and turning their outstretched hands toward a new direct-sales company, one that BOO’s top sellers claim offers an even purer fulvic acid product and a colloidal silver as well.
“Thanks for all your continued support,” The Solution’s admins wrote in a welcome post. “Moving forward is all we can do.”
Taco Bell’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco is “not quite a sandwich, not quite a taco,” the Yum! Brands, Inc. subsidiary said. The taco features all-white meat crispy chicken marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, seasoned with Mexican spices and rolled in a crunchy tortilla chip coating. The chicken is served on a warm flatbread folded into a taco form and flavored with Taco Bell’s creamy chipotle sauce. The taco may be ordered regular or spicy with the addition of crunchy jalapeño slices.
I love chicken sandwiches, and I’ve long enjoyed Chick-fil-A’s offering but I’m not in favor of their social policies, so I’ve kept my antenna up for alternatives. Apparently Popeye’s has a relatively good one, but we live in the northeast so I’m out of luck until I can manage to get south of the Mason-Dixon line.
So when Taco Bell started offering these, I had to try one. We went twice, and my wife liked hers; then we went to another location and this is what happened:
I ordered from their online menu and customized the item with tomatoes and onions – but what I got was light-years from what they advertised. Instead of a puffy flatbread, they used a standard flour tortilla, and instead of three chicken tenders, there was only one, with a piddling amount of plain cheese sauce. Bitterly disappointed, to say the least.
Next time I swung past Taco Bell, I noticed that the item had vanished from the menu. If franchises were having difficulty consistently preparing this item in a satisfactory manner, it’s no wonder they pulled it. According to a Taco Bell spokesperson,
“The Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco was a limited time menu offering. Innovation is core to Taco Bell and offering some menu items as limited time offers allows room on menus for even more new, craveable creations for fans. Like all great limited time menu items from Taco Bell, there’s always a chance we can see it return to menus.”
If they bring it back, they are going to have to make sure their stores can get the right ingredients and know how to prepare it properly, or else this will happen with greater frequency, the result of a little feedback to Corporate Headquarters:
Don’t get me wrong, I know that fast food is a challenging business, and consistency and quality across franchises can be a bedeviling task – but it’s probably one of the most important thing any national chain can focus on.
I still love Taco Bell for a fast, cheap, filling, and tasty meal. And it’s not like they haven’t weathered storms before.
Back in August of this year, I ordered something that looked very interesting from an ad that appeared on my facebook wall, by a company called acfantasy:
“The Grand Orrery model of the solar system depicts the correct relative orbital speeds of the planets plus relative orbital movement of Earth’s moon. Historically, a Grand Orrery showed only the “naked eye” planets out to Saturn, as they were developed in the early 18th century.”
It looked gorgeous and intricate, and I thought I would love to have this on my desk. The total charge to an outfit called “acfantasy” was $48.06.
What I received today, after a wait of two months (shipped, of course, from China) was this:
To say that I was stunned by the duplicity would be an understatement. True, I actually got something – a lot of these Chinese wankstains will take your money and not bother to ship anything at all – but sending out a cheap piece of scrap metal like this, which is not worth 49¢ let alone $49.00 is stunning in its audacity.
The company has a website (acfantasy.vip) and a contact email; I sent multiple requests for replacement with the advertised product or a full refund, but never heard anything back.
I have ordered things from Facebook ads before and been pleasantly surprised by what I would consider adequate quality and value for the money; this one certainly falls into the “Chinese businesses with all the ethics of a starving honey badger” column.
Facebook needs to do much better in vetting its advertisers. There are far too many scammers out there, about which I have written elsewhere. Despite being careful, I got burned this time. These people can sit on a very fragile glass cactus.
Edit: Sadly, I got stung again by a company called scypg, shortly after writing this; something else I had ordered before the bogus orrery had come.
Cheap-ass bait and switch. Advice found on reddit is excellent; I will definitely not purchase directly from ads found on social media any longer.
Edit: I also emailed this company several times. They finally wrote back telling me that they were sorry I had ordered the wrong product (i.e. selected the wrong option or something). I told them I didn’t. They wrote back a couple of times offering me a 15% or a 5% discount to try to keep me happy. There was no response to my last email telling them that I still wanted the advertised product or a full refund.
From Reddit, confirmed by my own experiences:
“LPT: Never buy items advertised on social media newsfeeds. The majority are either scams, bait and switch, or “Wish” quality products.
Social media sites almost never provide resolution. Instead of following the link in the ad, search for the item independently and buy from legitimate vendors.”Social media advertisements are frequently bots or institutional scams.
It typically results in:
1. Paypal scam where they charge your card multiple times and you end up having to request a new card number. 2. Bait and switch, where you follow the link for one thing and end up ordering something completely different. 3. Low quality item to begin with.
Think “wish” quality products…. Social media sites almost never rectify the issue, and often if you check back later the comments section indicate several hundred other people were scammed (and some fake reviews left as well!).
If you see something you want, search for it independently outside of social media and purchase it on a legitimate vendor. Never follow the link directly from social media.”
This was shared by a friend who got bitten by one of those between-post Facebook ads. He was supposed to get a 50-piece “Unsold Pallet from Amazon” for roughly $60.00 The implication was that there would be DeWalt, Makita or Milwaukee tools (as their photos show), and this is what came. Not a single DeWalt, Makita or Milwaukee tool to be seen.This post from Politifact and this post from Snopes highlight this kind of scam.
An example of this kind of advertisement:
Be very careful out there. A lot of highly disreputable people want your money, and don’t care how they get it.
It’s been going on for a long time, and it continues to spread via social media. And today I’m looking directly at Facebook, which seems happy to take advertising money for all sorts of spurious enterprises (see my earlier post about Chinese bottom-feeders trying to sell counterfeit Morgan dollar collections).
Today this showed up as a “promoted post” in my Facebook feed (on my Android, it should be noted; I use FBP on the desktop and almost never see an ad there):
“After loosing temper” was my first red flag. Great Mogg’s titanium teeth, people, learn the difference between “loose” and “lose.” But it turns out that the page you get to has nothing to do with the stated headline.
(I don’t even know if Artsy On knows anything about this. They seem to be selling books, but I frankly don’t have the time or energy to do a deep dive into their website metadata. It’s possible someone added a malicious link to their website and is using it to redirect to the seller’s page.)
which is a farticle (fake article) implying that Whoopi is endorsing or promoting this garbage called Cheyenne Valley CBD Oil:
The advertisement is designed to look like a Time Magazine article. It’s not. And Ms. Goldberg does not promote or endorse this product. At all. In any way. The whole thing is made up out of whole cloth as an affiliate marketing scam to get you to the marketing page for this questionable product. ¹
The second paragraph in this scammy advertisement reads like this:
“When I started this whole thing back in 2020, it really was just a part-time passion project and a way for me to give back. After being given so much, I figured there was no better time to make Cheyenne Valley CBD Oil available to everyone, as it can help thousands of people experience life pain-free and live much happier lives.”
But in this article from healthmj, we see a very similar quote:
“This was a really, really difficult decision for me. When I started this whole thing back in 2015, it really was just a part-time passion project and a way for me to give back. Now here we are almost five years later, and Green CBD Oil has steadily grown into a full-fledged business that’s helped thousands of people become pain-free and much happier. My line gives me a chance to do something bigger than music, and I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I let that opportunity pass me by.”
Blake Shelton doesn’t endorse any sort of CBD Oil. Neither does Tom Hanks, for that matter, and he says so in no uncertain terms. These bottom-feeders will use anyone’s name to get people to their sales page. Once you get there, it’s the same tired old format that I’ve written about multiple times:
Of course, this is just the hook; buried deeply in the Terms and Conditions which almost nobody ever reads, is the catch:
Failure to cancel within the trial period will result in our subscription program and further charges.
The trial begins the same day you order. It doesn’t begin when you receive the trial in the mail.
Applicable sales tax may be applied to all charges.
We allow only 1 trial purchase per household.
As part of ordering a trial, you agree to join a recurring membership plan. You can modify your subscription anytime by contacting us.
This is not a free sample offer. We only offer as a trial, which turns into a subscription or individual bottles.
The most efficient method of contacting us is through firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide your name and phone number and we will get back to you as soon as possible
The trial period begins on day of order. To clarify, it does not begin when you receive the product.
By placing your order today you’ll be shipped a 30 day supply of Cheyenne Valley CBD Oil for only $6.89. This gives you the opportunity to try this remarkable product so you can come to a decision for yourself if this is the right product for you. If you are dissatisfied with the product, you must call 8774388714 within 14 days trial plus 3 days shipping (total of 17 days) from today to cancel your membership and avoid being charged of $99.89, which is the full price of the product. If you are satisfied with the product, you need do nothing else and upon the expiration of the trial period, you will be billed $99.89.The total monthly subscription charge of $99.89 includes shipping and handling for the full cost of the product. Thirty days after your trial period ends and every thirty days thereafter, we will send you a fresh monthly supply at the low price of $99.89 per until you cancel your membership. There’s no obligation and you may cancel your membership at any time by calling 8774388714 or by sending an email to email@example.com. The trial period begins from the day of ordering the product.
Address the return package to: PO Box 15911, Tampa, FL 33684
Everything about these scammy, barely-legal offers is based on lies. The celebrity endorsement, publication by a major company (TIME magazine, in this case), the price of the offer, the claim of “extremely high demand” and “limited stock,” all of the supposed endorsements from “satisfied customers” – it’s all lies. All lies.
So even if you take the bait, bite the hook, get reeled in, and pay $100 a month(!) for a tiny bottle of who-knows-what, what kind of quality do you think you might be getting from a company that resorts to such reprehensible tricks to get your business? I wouldn’t use it if you paid me a Benjamin.
Protect yourself from scams and don’t give your money to any company that does business this way. And please educate your loved ones who may be vulnerable to such tactics.
And Facebook, take note. Stop accepting ads from this kind of scammer. It makes you look worse than you already do.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ In the interest of full clarity:
For several years, Ms. Goldberg was a partner in a website called Whoopi and Maya, which was focused on providing high-quality medical cannabis to women as a relief for menstrual cramps. When she and her partner came to a parting of the ways, the business was dissolved.
There are rumorsthat she may be involved in launching a new cannabis-related enterprise. Whether this comes to fruition remains to be seen. All that said, she does not endorse this scummy “Cheyenne Valley CBD Oil” and never has.
As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing her as Guinan in the 2nd Season of Star Trek: Picard.