FTC issues $250,000 fine for fake online reviews

The Federal Trade Commission took decisive action against a company that paid affiliate marketers to write positive reviews of its product.

Tennessee-based Legacy Learning Systems is staring down a $250,000 fine and other sanctions. Here’s what the company did, according to paidContent.org:

Legacy Learning Systems hired “affiliate marketers to sing the praises of its DVD series by writing glowing reviews on websites. But because those affiliates didn’t disclose they were getting paid for the praise they heaped on the educational DVD series, called ‘Learn and Master Guitar,’ the FTC said the ads were deceptive and illegal.”

In the wake of the ruling, the Public Relations Association of America (PRSA) offered some advice. Marisa Vallbona, a member of the PRSA board of directors, wrote on the blog PRSAY:

“Let’s say your client or employer gives a gift to a blogger and expects a review. Tell—don’t ask—the blogger to disclose the fact in his or her review. Otherwise, you’re asking the review to be considered fake and putting yours and your client’s reputation at stake.”

Vallbona added:

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