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Savannah is not starting a skin care line — inside the fake ad scam

The Liva Derma ad featuring the TODAY anchor is bogus.
/ Source: TODAY

A recent advertisement for a product called Liva Derma Serum claimed TODAY co-anchor Savannah Guthrie was leaving the show to start her own skin care line.

It's bogus — and just one of many "free trial" offers with fake celebrity endorsements for beauty or weight-loss pills aimed at people's wallets, an NBC News investigation by Gadi Schwartz found.

Savannah alerted people to the scam when a follower on Twitter asked her if it was real.

"People that I know really well would text and say, 'Hey I heard about your new career move,' and when I saw the articles I could understand why people believed it because it looks really real,'' Savannah said on TODAY Wednesday.

Many of the ads featuring fake celebrity endorsements from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Joanna Gaines often say the customer only pays for shipping in the "free" trial, but then slams you with the total cost if the products are not returned in a certain amount of time.

Even when the ads are found to be fake, they often aren't removed. In this case, Facebook took down the ads featuring Savannah and told Schwartz that those types of spam ads violate their policies. Users can report spam ads on Facebook by clicking on the three dots in the top right corner of the page.

Fake ad with Savannah
Ads falsely claiming celebrity endorsements from the likes of "Fixer Upper" star Joanna Gaines have popped up on popular sites like Facebook. TODAY

The way it works is that companies selling these products hire affiliate companies to design ads and create websites, and when you click on an ad, the affiliate gets a commission. When the links stop working, the affiliates just create new ones.

"Even if a link no longer works, that doesn't mean that the same claims are not being made for the product somewhere else,'' Steve Baker of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said on TODAY.

The BBB has received almost 37,000 complaints and reports about bogus "free" trials in the past three years.

Schwartz tried, unsuccessfully, to track down the owner of the company that makes the Liva Derma Serum. He tried multiple numbers to no avail and then a toll-free customer service line for the product in which a customer service agent pleaded ignorance about the false ads.

Fake ad with Savannah
A simple check of a celebrity's social media accounts can be a quick way to see if he or she is actually endorsing the product. TODAY

The customer service agent said there was a 14-day period before the product had to be returned but wouldn't give a website with the terms and conditions. Schwartz eventually found it buried on another page where it would be difficult for the consumer to locate.

The companies also don't often list their addresses on these websites, meaning victims might only find a P.O. box for the fulfillment center it was shipped from.

Schwartz had three takeaways to help consumers avoid the free trial scams:

  • Check the product or comnpany name on the Better Business Bureau website to see if there are any complaints.
  • Read the terms and conditions on the websites before buying anything.
  • Check the social media accounts of the celebrities the ads claim are endorsing the product to see if they are really backing it.