Scammers find a new low

So you’re 15 years old and your mom dies of breast/lung cancer. Imagine your surprise 9 months later when you log on to Facebook and your “mother” has posted a status update promoting colon cleansers (specifically, the company CleanseProX — because the X means it works). I’d link to them, but they have several websites with different names and extensions. You know, like real companies do.

This is what happened to Shelby Breimer of Halifax. Apparently people have found a way to manipulate the Facebook Mobile application that updates statuses via cell phones. Shelby’s family contacted the colon cleanser company, who told them they would remove the spam and apologise. Instead, another “testimonial” appeared. The family is now considering legal action, if possible.

The Facebook accounts of deceased individuals can be memorialized (a sort of protection), but someone has to report the deceased person’s account in the first place. As I understand Helen Breimer’s case, her open account was vulnerable to abuse because of a hack through Facebook Mobile. Facebook’s procedure makes sense, but if one of my loved ones died the last thing that would occur to me — if at all — is their Facebook account.

In Canada, there are currently no spamming laws to deal with cases like this one. But Halifax lawyer David Fraser says this could fall under current fraud legislation for impersonation.

This case illustrates the problem with these kinds of companies. They have no limits. They will do anything to promote their product, no matter how distasteful and obscure. They will take advantage of people’s fear and concern of doctors and traditional medicine. They will exploit our desire to do things in the quickest, easiest way possible. And they are hard to get rid of. For example, you report one website to the Better Business Bureau or the FTC and they have 6 more to replace it…if the first one is even shut down at all.

The parent company, Teloxys Technologies Ltd, is actually linked to a wide-spread Facebook scam under many names. This is somewhat new and appears to have started gaining momentum around September 2009. Apparently accounts are typically updated with a message “I lost 8.5 pounds” with a product website. If you do go to their website to get a “Free Trial” for 6.95 shipping and handling, a mysterious charge for over 70$ ends up on your credit card.

Especially nasty is that a Google search for “CleanseProX complaints” turns up a bunch of websites asking “Is CleanseProX a scam?” followed by a few paragraphs insisting that “no it’s not and we happen to have the link right here for you to buy some”. Lovely. In fact, colon cleansers in general are completely unnecessary and potentially dangerous (dehydration, allergic reaction, etc).

Any company that hacks into people’s private internet accounts to advertise their product is not a company that is concerned with people’s rights (apparently) and letting this fly lets more people get taken advantage of. I wonder if users can start a class-action suit with everyone who ended up with a message like this on their Facebook status updates under fraud legislation… Any lawyers out there who know about this kind of thing?

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  • Kim Hebert

    Kim Hébert is an occupational therapist. She is interested in the promotion of science and reason, particularly regarding therapeutic health interventions. She blogs occasionally about occupational therapy and other health topics at Science-Based Therapy. Her hobbies are art and astronomy. **All views expressed by Kim are her personal views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers, associations, or other affiliations. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.