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Before the COVID-19 epidemic, online scams utilizing cannabidiol were prevalent, but the virus's ambiguity, as well as what CBD is approved for, made for a particularly efficient scam. Companies are jumping at the chance to market CBD products like oils, cosmetics, tinctures, and vaporizer cartridges to consumers who are perhaps looking for a more ‘natural’ relief for symptoms ranging from anxiety and pain to insomnia and substance-abuse disorder. But with little-to-no oversight from the FDA, how can Americans determine which products are safe and effective and which aren’t? Two leading experts in the field break down the ever-booming CBD industry. On Facebook, Fake Stories Use Fox News Hosts to Hawk Dubious CBD Products A round of fictitious stories masquerading as news articles from Fox News — invoking the names and faces of prominent

CBD Gummies Fox News

Before the COVID-19 epidemic, online scams utilizing cannabidiol were prevalent, but the virus’s ambiguity, as well as what CBD is approved for, made for a particularly efficient scam.

There have been several instances where paid Facebook ads promoted dubious CBD products by using fake news articles from Fox News and other outlets in recent weeks.

These Facebook posts are allegedly linked to a website that poses as a Fox News report and promotes a bogus narrative using the names and faces of famous personalities. For instance:

“Laura Ingraham with Big Pharma Following Latest Business Venture.”

“Fox News Cutting Ties With Sean Hannity Over Breach of Contract?”

However, as previously stated, the headlines are false. They are essentially advertisements that incorrectly equate the network’s figures with CBD products. Advertisers can’t market CBD products on Facebook since it’s against the terms of service.

Providing an appearance of legitimacy by impersonating false stories isn’t a new strategy. The fabrications are part of a larger pattern. Another bogus “Fox News” story claimed that evangelical leader Charles Stanley sold CBD gummies. Many other influential personalities have refuted similar allegations for selling CBD products.

Scammers frequently bait their hooks with fictitious celebrity endorsements to deceive consumers’ trust. The consumer advocacy group advises people to “be skeptical of celebrity endorsements” and to “refrain from being swayed away by the use of a well-known name.”

How Does the Scam Work?

After clicking on ads, users are taken to suspicious websites. Advertisements were designed to look like Fox News, with fine-type at the bottom of the page that indicated they were ads, masking what otherwise appeared to be normal blog posts.

While in some cases, it’s just the endorsement that is not real, however, the product does exist. Others have reported signing up for a “free sample” and then discovering their bank account being charged hundreds of dollars month after month.

Just how safe are CBD products? Experts weigh in

Companies are jumping at the chance to market CBD products like oils, cosmetics, tinctures, and vaporizer cartridges to consumers who are perhaps looking for a more ‘natural’ relief for symptoms ranging from anxiety and pain to insomnia and substance-abuse disorder. But with little-to-no oversight from the FDA, how can Americans determine which products are safe and effective and which aren’t? Two leading experts in the field break down the ever-booming CBD industry.

Chances are you know someone who either currently uses or is curious to use some form of cannabidiol, better known as CBD. Whether it’s your Uncle Joe talking about how it helps him with his joint pain or a celebrity like Jennifer Aniston touting how it relieves her stress and anxiety, CBD products have seen a major boost in sales over the last two years. In fact, New York-based investment bank Cowen & Co. released a study on the CBD market, estimating that the revenue would hit $16 billion by 2025.

“Many people are desperate for a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals. This plant has been known throughout history to have healing properties, medicinal properties, despite not a lot of FDA evidence,” Noelle Skodzinski, editorial director of Cannabis Business Times told Fox News. “People are just starting to try it and they’re finding relief from anxiety, insomnia, joint pain and chronic pain.”

CBD is one of over 80 chemicals known as cannabinoids in the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as marijuana or hemp. “Hemp” is a term used to define varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound that gets people high.

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Cannabis plants contain dozens of chemical compounds called cannabinoids.

“It [CBD] doesn’t make you high, but it has effects on multiple other chemicals in the body and in the brain. So, for example, in the brain, it can elevate chemicals that are important for regulating anxiety and mood,” Dr. Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai told Fox News.

One of the reasons why CBD has become so popular lately is because it’s only been available for most of America since the 2018 Farm Bill was instated. The bill removed CBD’s classification as a Class I Drug, which includes narcotics like heroin and cocaine, but left the legality of its use up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and states.

Companies have jumped at the chance to market products like oils, dietary supplements, cosmetics, animal treats, hand lotions, tinctures and vaporizer cartridges. And although it’s currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement, plenty of CBD products including sparkling waters, candy and other edibles are being sold.

Currently, the FDA has only approved one CBD product, a prescription drug that treats two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

The FDA approved Epidiolex, which contains a purified form of cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients 2 years of age and older.

“There are not many studies that have definitively shown CBD to be efficacious except for these two rare forms of childhood epilepsy,” Dr. Hurd said. “There are a number of small studies that have shown an indication that CBD might be effective for anxiety. Might be effective as an antipsychotic. Might be effective as to decrease cravings for people with a substance use disorders, but those studies are still very small in terms of the sample sizes that have been done.”

While a quick Google search can pull up small tinctures of CBD oil between $30-$150, how can consumers know which products are worth all the hype—and money? Some experts claim manufacturers may be taking advantage of loopholes in the existing regulations, or lack thereof.

“Right now, because there is no FDA oversight, there hasn’t been any evaluation on efficacy, safety or dosage,” said Skodzinski, who is also the editorial director for the magazines Cannabis Dispensary and Hemp Grower.

New York-based investment bank Cowen & Co. released a study on the CBD market, estimating that the revenue would hit $16 billion by 2025.

Consumers can look out for a few red flags when it comes to knowing which companies might be trying to sell you fraudulent CBD products Skodzinski said.

1. False medical claims

“If a company is claiming any kind of direct health or medical benefits, that’s a red flag. That’s the first red flag because that is illegal to do. They can’t market as a dietary supplement and they can’t make medical claims right now.”

2. Lack of third-party testing

“The first thing I would look for is a company that publishes third-party testing results, ideally on their website. Third-party laboratories will provide certificates of analysis and they should show CBD contents, and contents of any other cannabinoids. And then they also should have test results that show that it’s free of unsafe levels of pesticides, molds, and heavy metals.”

According to the FDA, the agency has only seen limited data about CBD safety and says it has the potential to cause liver injury, affect the metabolism of other drugs, which could cause serious side effects and may increase the risk of sedation and drowsiness when used with alcohol or other types of depressants.

The FDA is currently setting up regulations for CBD products, specifically looking at ways to verify the percentage of CBD and making sure THC isn’t present in them, Hurd said.

“We still don’t know how CBD accumulates in the body over time. So for skincare products, for your regular coffee, what are the long term impacts of CBD? Those are questions that they [the FDA] are trying to look into. Once they understand some of that, then they’re trying to set the regulations for how CBD products should be monitored, should be made and should be sold to the public,” Hurd explained.

Lindsay Carlton is a Senior video producer and writer for Fox Digital Originals. Follow her on Twitter @LCCARLTON

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On Facebook, Fake Stories Use Fox News Hosts to Hawk Dubious CBD Products

A round of fictitious stories masquerading as news articles from Fox News — invoking the names and faces of prominent hosts on the channel — and other outlets have been used in recent weeks to hawk dubious products through paid Facebook advertisements.

Ads on the social media platform featuring the faces of various Fox News figures have taken users to false headlines, topping deceptive full-page “stories,” such as:

  • “Laura Ingraham in the Hot Seat with Big Pharma Following Latest Business Venture.”
  • “Big Pharma In Outrage Over Jeanine Pirro’s Latest Business Venture – She Fires Back With This!”
  • “Fox News Cutting Ties With Sean Hannity Over Breach of Contract?”

But, as we said, the headlines are bunk, and are actually ads that wrongly associate the network’s figures with various cannabidiol, or CBD, products and, in one case, a male enhancement drug. Facebook does not permit advertisers to promote such CBD products.

We reached out to Facebook about the ads, and a spokesperson told us that the “ads violate our policies and we have removed them.”

“We put significant resources towards tackling ads that promote deceptive behavior, like misusing images of public figures to mislead people, but we do miss some,” the spokesperson said. “Our systems get better when people report this kind of behavior in ads, by tapping the three dots in the top right corner and selecting ‘Report Ad.’”

After our inquiry, we found that another such ad on Facebook involving Laura Ingraham, published in July, remains active — u nderscoring the platform’s struggle to identify and block all such deceptions. Update, Aug. 20: Facebook has since removed that ad, too, and said it removed the user and business account responsible for violating its policies. ( Full disclosure: FactCheck.org works with Facebook as a third-party fact-checking partner; the platform plays no role in our editorial decisions.)

Ongoing Deceptions

The bogus stories represent an ongoing trend. We previously reported on another such false “Fox News” story that claimed the evangelical leader Charles Stanley was selling a line of CBD gummies. Other fact-checkers have debunked similar claims about contestants from ABC’s “Shark Tank” selling CBD products.

The use of bogus stories to misleadingly market products isn’t a new tactic. In late 2020, the professional skateboarder Tony Hawk told his social media followers to avoid a headline claiming that “Big Pharma In Outrage” over Hawk’s CBD product (he had no affiliation with the company referenced) — the same claim made in the headline about Pirro and Stanley. HGTV star Bryan Baeumler did the same.

In the latest blitz, the deceptive stories were surfaced to Facebook users through ads that vaguely suggested the Fox News stars were on the outs with the network. Once users clicked on an ad, they were taken to dubious websites where the full-page ads were made to look like Fox stories — with barely noticeable fine print at the bottom indicating they were ads — that masked what would otherwise appear to be benign blog posts.

For instance, one Facebook ad displayed the headline, “Laura Dismissed From ‘The Ingraham Angle,’” with a photo of Laura Ingraham. The ad linked to a post on vegetablefoods.net headlined, “Trust Isn’t the Key to Business Partnerships.”

But visiting the page from the Facebook ad surfaced a bogus story slickly designed to appear as if it were from Fox News — under the byline of (actual) Fox reporter Brit Hume — with the headline, “Laura Ingraham in the Hot Seat with Big Pharma Following Latest Business Venture.” It falsely tied Ingraham to a product called “Prime Nature CBD.”

Nick Nikiforakis, an associate professor of computer science at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview that such “cloaking” of a webpage can make it harder for analysts and researchers to identify scams.

For example, those setting up such a ruse may only show the full-page ad to people visiting the link from a certain source, he said, or only display the ad to the same person once.

And users who saw the supposed Fox News stories without taking note of the domain could well have been tricked into thinking the stories were from the network — given their use of the network’s logo and color scheme — he said.

We reached out to Fox News about the deceptive ads leveraging the network’s brand, but didn’t hear back.

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The vegetablefoods.net domain and others used to push the false stories have been registered in recent months through a service that masks the identities of those truly behind the websites, according to registration records on WhoIs.com. The website catanimals.online was used to show Facebook users the bogus Pirro story, while creativitypaintings.com surfaced a bogus story — purporting to be from GQ magazine — connecting Sean Hannity to a male enhancement drug and suggesting he and the network were “cutting ties.”

Public Complaints

Public complaints to the Better Business Bureau for various CBD products are in no short supply. Some cite misrepresentations of products being tied to Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson; many specifically cite content they encountered through Facebook, such as ads using Stanley.

There are a number of complaints and negative reviews listed with the bureau regarding Eagle Hemp, the company marketed in the bogus story about Stanley.

Similarly, a Freedom of Information Act request we filed with the Federal Trade Commission revealed that at least three complaints have been lodged against Eagle Hemp this year.

“Eagle Hemp CBD placed an ad in Facebook stating its affiliation with and ownership by Dr. Charles Stanley of In Touch Ministries. I trusted its statements foolishly and made a credit card purchase,” one of the complaints said.

The company — which received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan in 2020 — is actually managed by George Southworth, a Florida businessman, who didn’t respond to our requests for comment. The company’s primary address is the same as another company registered to Southworth called Well Being Labs. Both share the address of Southworth’s concrete business.

“I’ve talked to victims who say the use of the celebrity is really important,” C. Steven Baker, an international investigations specialist with the Better Business Bureau who has researched such campaigns, told us in a phone interview. “If there’s a celebrity they believe in or trust, that gives them a lot more confidence” in the product — because, the customers figure, the celebrity wouldn’t endorse an illegitimate company.

In a 2018 report, Baker — who spent more than 30 years with the FTC — laid out how bogus stories and celebrity endorsements, often peddled by “affiliate” marketing sites, are used to entice customers into deceptive free-trial offers and “subscription traps.”

Baker told us that identifying the individuals behind such campaigns can be tricky, since those selling the product may use fulfillment centers and third-party customer service lines.

The most recent fictitious, Fox News-themed stories touted products such as Prime Nature CBD and Green Country CBD. The pages linked in the bogus stories to buy those CBD brands listed the same P.O. Box in Tampa, Florida; we were unable to locate business records for either.

We called the number listed for Prime Nature and were connected with a third-party customer service line. An operator, who said he was based in the Philippines, said he could not disclose any contact information for Prime Nature — or the other companies with which the customer service line works.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Articles of Organization of Well Being Labs LLC. Florida Secretary of State. Filed 28 Jul 2021.

Baker, C. Steven. International investigations specialist, Better Business Bureau. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 16 Aug 2021.

“Eagle Hemp LLC.” Better Business Bureau. Accessed 16 Aug 2021.

Facebook. Email statement to FactCheck.org. 18 Aug 2021.

Federal Trade Commission. Complaints — Eagle Hemp. Freedom of Information Act request. 18 Aug 2021.

Nikiforakis, Nick. Associate professor of computer science, Stony Brook University. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 17 Aug 2021.

“WellBeing Labs | Complaints.” Better Business Bureau. Accessed 16 Aug 2021.

Q. Are vaccinated and boosted people more susceptible to infection or disease with the omicron variant than unvaccinated people?

A. No. Getting vaccinated increases your protection against COVID-19. Sometimes, certain raw data can suggest otherwise, but that information cannot be used to determine how well a vaccine works.

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