"When we use the term con artist, we typically place the emphasis on the first word while forgetting the implications of the second."


Thu, Jan 2nd, 2014 10:00 by capnasty NEWS

If you've ever seen those sketchy banner ads claiming that you can lose all your belly fat with "1 weird old trick," The Atlantic explains how "one of the most egregious scammers in the history of the Internet" is behind them and how his questionable methods -- which made him "the subject of an exhaustive investigation by the Federal Trade Commission" -- generated millions in revenue.

If you’ve used the Internet at all in the past six years, your cursor has probably lingered over ads for Willms’s Web sites more times than you’d suspect. His pitches generally fit in nicely with what have become the classics of the dubious-ad genre: tropes like photos of comely newscasters alongside fake headlines such as “Shocking Diet Secrets Exposed!”; too-good-to-be-true stories of a “local mom” who “earns $629/day working from home”; clusters of text links for miracle teeth whiteners and “loopholes” entitling you to government grants; and most notorious of all, eye-grabbing animations of disappearing “belly fat” coupled with a tagline promising the same results if you follow “1 weird old trick.” (A clue: the “trick” involves typing in 16 digits and an expiration date.)

On Web sites small and large, from backwater message boards to reputable news outlets, these sorts of ads have been appearing for years—long enough that most of us have learned to see them as the background static of the Internet. Because the work-at-home schemes and mango-based colon cleansers they peddle are so obviously fishy, the companies that promote them are seldom spectacularly profitable. Willms, on the other hand, used these same channels to capture 4 million paying customers and nearly half a billion dollars in sales, all at an age when many people are spending their work hours upselling the Never Ending Pasta Bowl at Olive Garden. “There are others doing similar things,” Ben Edelman, a Harvard Business School professor and an expert in online-advertising fraud, told me. “But Willms was doing it on a remarkable scale, by all indications as large as anyone—maybe the largest.”



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