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Ellen DeGeneres, Sandra Bullock take on internet scammers over fake beauty ads

The Hollywood duo filed a joint lawsuit to fight companies they claim are using their likenesses to create fake ads to sell beauty products.
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/ Source: TODAY

Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock have teamed up against internet scammers they claim are using their names and likenesses to sell products that the Hollywood stars do not endorse.

The two filed a joint lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday to fight internet companies that have run ads showing DeGeneres or Bullock endorsing beauty and anti-aging products that have no connection to the duo.

Rather than trying to combat the fake endorsement ads one by one as they pop up, attorneys for DeGeneres and Bullock filed the lawsuit claiming the actress and talk show host are being targeted by multiple scammers "because of their age, their unimpeachable reputation for honesty and having worked hard at maintaining a healthy and youthful look, which con artists believe will attract and dupe unwitting customers."

Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock have teamed up for a lawsuit against online scammers using their names and faces to sell beauty and anti-aging products.
Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock have teamed up for a lawsuit against online scammers using their names and faces to sell beauty and anti-aging products. AP

The legal action is an attempt to crack down on scammers using affiliate marketing, in which companies that sell the beauty or anti-aging products hire affiliates to design their advertisements and create websites.

When a person clicks on the fake endorsement ads with DeGeneres' or Bullock's likeness, the affiliate gets a commission. When the links stop working or are taken down, the affiliate just creates new ones.

"Like Whac-A-Mole, for each fake site exposed, another one pops up,'' the attorneys told TODAY in a statement.

The ads also offer "risk-free" trials where customers allegedly only pay for shipping but are then hit with the total cost unless they cancel the order within a certain amount of time, according to the lawsuit.

Those online scams have cost victims more than $1.3 billion in the last 10 years, according to the Better Business Bureau.

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

The perpetrators of the fraud are so difficult to track down that the lawsuit names "John Does 1 through 100" as the defendants.

TODAY's own Savannah Guthrie has also battled the same issue. A company called Liva Derma created a fake ad in January using her likeness and falsely claiming she was leaving the show to start her own skin care line.

An example from the lawsuit filed Wednesday claims that scammers used an appearance by Bullock on TODAY to falsely claim that she talked about her new skin care line. She does not have a skin care line.

An investigation by Gadi Schwartz of NBC News was unsuccessful in trying to track down the owner of the company that makes Liva Derma serum. Schwartz did discover that the same fake ad involving Savannah that ran in January still lives online.

Schwartz also tried to track down the owners of the products featured in the fake endorsement ads involving DeGeneres' and Bullock's likenesses but could not get in touch with anyone.

Schwartz has three tips to help consumers avoid the free trial scams:

  • Check the product or company name on the Better Business Bureau website to see if there are any complaints, and file your own complaint with the BBB if you have been scammed.
  • 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.