The free CBD ploy basically works by bait and switch and exploiting people’s forgetfulness. They’ll offer you a free trial bottle for joining their subscription and you only pay shipping but then they start charging your card every week hoping you won’t notice and if you do get anything it won’t be what’s advertised. This kind of scam is huge across the supplement industry.
You may have seen ads on social media, particularly Facebook, advertising free bottles. They’ll often advertise pure CBD in the hundreds of milligrams. This is a red flag; CBD is expensive and this is a large amount. The sites often look very similar with multiple big buttons urging you to “claim your free bottle” or “rush your CBD order” before they run out, complete with countdown timers and little popups telling you who just ordered which goes off about every second 24-7. A banner at the top that says YOU BETTER ORDER NOW!!! There is generic stock photography of friendly and attractive female doctors and scientists and jubilant looking elders, so happy to be free of their inflammation, insomnia and yes possibly even rosacea, which clearly has allowed them to find love once again.
If you do actually get anything it may not contain any hemp oil at all or it may contain hemp seed oil which has no CBD and a tiny drop of hemp extract. Others will even use a synthetic CBD analog research chemical called 4-cyano CUMYL-BUTINACA (4-CCB) instead of the real thing. They seem to have pages with domain names like “sonomavalleycbd.net”, “virginiafarmscbd.net” or “mountainskycbd.org”. They’ll have social media pages and love to use names that are identical or very similar to those of legitimate businesses and celebrities. The page will say it’s a review and make a reference to an official site which isn’t linked and usually can’t be found. They all have the same copy and the same layout, using the WordPress Leaf theme and all the ones I have checked so far had their domain names registered through Name.com and are hosted by Hostgator. There is no contact information anywhere on these one-page sites. I’ve seen a couple dozen of these and there are likely many more.
If you Google search one of these “company’s” names you’ll find that in addition to the dubious one page review sites, they’ll appear in other review sites which actually have more than one review and maybe even some articles about the benefits of CBD giving the review site more of an appearance of legitimacy. One such site is aapainmanage.org. This is a good place to find other sites made by the same person/people/bot, they even gives all of the products the same 9.6 rating! Other than leading to these same generic sites, clicking links in the fake reviews led to at least one page saying the account had been removed for suspicious activity and another linked to what looked like a shady dating site. Sites like this are affiliates, which receive a commission when anyone follows a link from their site and makes a purchase. The affiliate disclaimer linked at the bottom of aapainmanage.org hilariously says “We have to tell you that it is possible that our reviews and posts are influenced by our affiliate relationships and may create a conflict of interest.” Yeah, I bet.
If you click any of the links you’ll be taken to another site with a different domain name. If you click the same link repeatedly you’ll be taken to at least 6 different sites with each click. Each of these pages will look identical with a form for your information on the right and more generic stock photography. In the particular one I’m looking at there’s a popup at the bottom constantly going off, supposedly telling you names of people who just ordered. If it was real, people probably wouldn’t want their names published like that but never mind. In the upper corner of the page there’s a badge saying the site is verified safe and secure by the hosting company Godaddy which is strange since the site is hosted by Cloudflare. When this badge is used legitimately it just means the site is HTTPS encrypted and therefore your information can’t be stolen by a third party. What it does not mean is the people running the site won’t rob you.
I filled in the form with fake information using a temporary throw away email address and phone number from a second line app. By the next day, both had several spam texts and emails because the very first thing they’ll do is sell your information! Below I listed some of the sites I came to which had these forms. If you scroll way down to the bottom, this is where you’ll finally find a contact link. If you go out to the site’s front page and scroll to the bottom there will be a link to ingredients. Making this kind of information hard to find is another red flag.
- eaglesaflower.com: ingredients are safflower oil.
- hurricanelifestyle.com: ingredients list turmeric root powder and forskolin powder.
- quartichempoil.com: lists hemp seed oil with 3.33 mg of full spectrum hemp extract out of 1 ml.
- firstclassherbalistrelief.com: this one had no homepage.
- gangesplant.com: Safflower oil.
- firstclassherbtincture.com: no homepage.
You’ll also notice bulleted lists making claims about the health benefits of CBD which the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission frown upon. This is a pretty good indication that the people you’ll be dealing with aren’t overly concerned with legality.
So, how do you discern the scams from real CBD?
- Be wary of any free samples if they want a card number. CBD is expensive so online giveaways are unlikely. If they want your payment information you should run.
- Be wary of sites that look like the ones in the images above!
- Be wary of sites that don’t make contacting the company easy.
- Look for ingredients. If there aren’t any, run! Reputable companies will have not only ingredients/supplement facts but third party lab results.
- Be wary of ads that claim celebrity endorsement.
- Look for reviews on legitimate CBD community sites like https://cbdoilusers.com/
- Check the CBD section of Ripoff Report https://www.ripoffreport.com/reports/health-fitness/health-care-cbd-oil
What do you do if you’ve been scammed
If you can find a number call them and if you don’t get all but the amount you agreed to pay for shipping back tell them that you’ll report them. If that doesn’t work call your bank, report the fraud and request a “fraud chargeback”. You should get them to cancel that card and send you a new one. If you’re angry enough after that to be motivated report them to Facebook, Instagram, the Better Business Bureau, the Ripoff Report and anywhere else you can but please before you do that make sure you are reporting the right company! They like to have names similar to real companies.
Comment below your experiences with this scam.