Deception Funds Your Online News

Even though you won’t fall for it, free news has a human cost


You’d never fall for this headline, would you?

“’Genius Pill’ Banned in All 49 States Except NY”

Replace NY with whatever state you’re in right now, because the headline updates automatically (and that’s not at all suspicious, right?). And yes, observant reader, it should say All 50 States or “the other” and “excluding”, but you barely noticed that, right? Presuming this got past your normal rationality/believability filters, and you clicked on the ad, you’d get to a website titled “Stephen Hawking Predicts, ‘This Pill Will Change Humanity’”! — or is it?

But look a little more carefully. The domain is actually “” with forbes being a subdomain thereof. And yes, they’ve ripped the header (and footer) from Forbes and claim it is a “special editorial” by Jon Stewart, replete with fake Facebook comments.

(Real) Staff Member Matthew Herper wrote about a similar product fraudulently using a Forbes-lookalike website in May 2015. And yet it still goes on, in ads accepted by companies working with many well-known websites.

The aforementioned ad I saw was distributed by a company called Revcontent, on the news website International Business Times ( You’d never fall for this clearly-fake site. But someone would, and does, otherwise this tactic wouldn’t still be showing up, 9+ months later after (presumably) someone else got shut down trying it. This deception increases conversion rates on these offers, and helps companies like Revcontent pay publishers “between $3 and $40 RPMs” (Revenue per thousand impressions). Sad to say, these numbers are a good return for websites’ online advertising in today’s climate. Buying online ads is far too easy, it seems.

I wouldn’t fall for it, so why should I care?

The most vulnerable among us are falling for these offers. They’re the ones spending hours on the phone in endless phone trees or with credit card companies trying to reverse a ‘free-trial’ that became an $87-a-month recurring charge.

In essence, these people are paying for the free news and content you consume. Every time you don’t become the victim of one of these fraudulent ads, you’re benefiting from someone else who isn’t as lucky. Lucky? I mean smart — they’re just not as smart as you knowing to avoid these things, right? Hmmmm. As a society, we should care. Communities are meant to stand up for those among them that are vulnerable. Perhaps you’ve seen this happen to your mom, your uncle, your friend already. But many more of these victims, you will never know and you won’t know the negative consequences they endure as a result of online fraudsters.

And if my entreaty to care about people you don’t know doesn’t sway you, don’t forget: perhaps when the fraudsters run out of easy-to-trap victims, they’ll figure out a way to trick you into giving them your money. An anonymous domain name for $18, a shared hosting account for next-to-nothing, a few copied image and text files later… and then they’ll buy some ads to spread this joy to you (and those like you). Fair warning.

Like what you read? Give Rob Leathern a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.