Ethan Vanderbuilt Fake Review Scam

Can You Trust Online Business Reviews?

Every year thousands of people across the country search for business opportunities online. Often it starts with a friend’s facebook post about an essential oils company or a family member shares their story about how they made extra money, you eventually decide that there is something to this network marketing thing. With over $36 billion in sales annually and 20 million people engaged in some form of direct selling, it’s no secret that there is money to be made. Regardless of what your opinion of network marketing may be, it’s worth looking into. It is wise to do your research before you consider joining one of these businesses. The trouble is, can you trust the information that exists online?

The first step in researching a business opportunity is to look up company reviews. Read what real people and experts say. Seems simple enough. Except those some of the “experts” may not be what they claim to be. If you are searching for a network marketing opportunity, the reviewer may have a financial motivation to trick you into buying something else. The review calling a business a scam may actually be made by a real scammer.

In the last four years, multiple websites have sprung up calling themselves trusted scam busters. Let’s review a few of them.

Is Ethan Vanderbuilt the Internet’s Most Trusted Scambuster?

Ethan Vanderbuilt has built a business out of writing negative reviews about companies he considers to be scams. On his site EthanVanderbuilt.com, he calls himself “The Internet’s Most Trusted Scam Buster”. A quick Google search will reveal that his website ranks for most network marketing brands. Often the articles are titled: “Is (company name) a scam? In my opinion, yes“. He says almost every business opportunity is a “pathetic scam”. Could Vanderbuilt be right?

Who is Ethan Vanderbuilt?

Let’s start with the fact that Ethan Vanderbuilt is a fake name. The face of all those YouTube videos that disparage hundred of companies is nothing more than a paranoid failed IT worker who lives in near Sacremento, California. (We will not disclose his full name here since our intent is not to burst his personal security paranoia and will only refer to his real first name; Joel)

Joel’s business is built on a lie. He does not have a professional certification or degree that would qualify him as an expert in business or marketing. His resume lists him as working briefly as a WebEx trainer and a small business computer consultant. If you have a problem connecting to a WebEx meeting, he could be the one who answers your help desk call; trusting him to review a billion dollar company, not so much.

Legitimate reviews are made by people who have actually purchased a product or service. If you have never tasted a particular brand of granola bar or shake, how exactly can you write a review saying it tastes bad? Joel can not prove he has tried any of the products and services he has reviewed on his site because he has not bothered to risk his own money to do so. If a company offered up a product for him to review, he would have had to place an FTC disclosure on each review.

Vanderbuilt’s Fake Review Formula

In his videos, Joel explains passionately how he wants to help prevent people from getting scammed by these dangerous predators who use questionable marketing techniques to sucker you into a business opportunity.

Let’s break down how this works. Here is how you run an attraction marketing/fake review scam:

  1. Create a blog post and/or YouTube video that uses a brand name, the word review, and asks if it’s a scam in the title.
  2. Grab basic information off of the company’s website, links to an old compensation plan, and review products you’ve never purchased.
  3. At the end of the video or blog post, explain how only you can help the user be successful in network marketing and that you know the secret to success. Provide a link to your affiliate program and hope the user signs up.
  4. Collect money

Joel’s website seems to follow this formula exactly. In fact, he even calls out a company that is notorious for training people on how to run this scam; the infamous Empower Network. It is not a coincidence that Joel kicked off his scam busting career in 2013 with his video on Empower.

Empower Network, a clone of My Lead System Pro (MLSP), help pioneer the tactic of stealing the brand equity of another company to drive traffic to your business through fake reviews. Another company saw this and created a spin on this business by offering an affiliate marketing program that used the exact same unethical marketing tactics. Wealthy Affiliates members have become some of the worst offenders of fake review marketing.

So why does Joel’s one positive review share the benefits of Wealthy Affiliates? Because he is a member of this business opportunity. It is not a coincidence his profile on Wealthy Affiliates was created in 2013.

The fact that Joel’s website was founded to build his Wealthy Affiliates business by driving traffic from fake scam reviews eliminates all credibility he claims to have.

The FTC vs Fake Reviews

Why has Joel not been sued by the companies he defames? He narrowly skirts lawsuits by adding the words “in my opinion” to any seriously libelous claims. He is smart enough to understand that if his posts are opinions and non-actionable facts, then he is released from the liability of his content. While he may appear to be careful, many legal experts could find plenty of violations within his site.

Writing fake reviews can carry consequences. If the content is blatantly false, companies can seek legal action. Regardless if the company being falsely reviewed can actually win the lawsuit, bringing an action against a fake reviewer may burden them with heavy legal costs.

The FTC is responsible for monitoring and enforcing rules against posting fake reviews. Dan Warner, an attorney, wrote this in Tech.co:

“the FTC’s mission is to rid the marketplace of “unfair and deceptive marketing” — and it has the authority to both fine and shut down operations.

“According to the FTC, online endorsements and testimonials can’t be purposely misleading, plus any relationship or connection between a company and reviewer must be disclosed. Additionally, paid reviewers and endorsers can’t publish fake or unfounded claims.

The FTC takes this seriously. If a business is engaging in fake testimonials or paying people to post misleading reviews, commissioners have the legal authority to impart hefty fines or even shut down a business, as a result.”

Here is a helpful infographic explaining the consequences of posting fake reviews:

http://www.blogtrepreneur.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Start-Up-Infographic-FINAL.png

Most of these fake reviews are running small operations and are not on the FTC’s radar. If you feel you have been a victim of a fake review, you are welcome to file a complaint with Federal Trade Commission.

Fake Scam Buster Copycats

EthanVanderbuilt.com attracts a lot of traffic. Joel seems to have a decent grasp on the principles of search engine optimization and recognizes the power of YouTube video ranking tactics. His formula for creating fake reviews to attract traffic has spawned numerous copycats.

The owner AdvertScams.com openly admits to being inspired by Ethan Vanderbuilt and blatantly uses his fake reviews to promote his Wealthy Affiliates business. The website follows the same attraction marketing blog format used by EthanVanderbuilt.com and lists multiple fake reviews designed to steal leads for their own business opportunity.

His review, Kyani Product Review – Is it a Legit Business | Avert Scams is a perfect example of the fake review scam. He targets Kyäni, a $500 million dollar business that receives thousands of search a month with a story about the company and its compensation plan. He goes on to say that Kyäni is not a scam however if a user wants to make money they need to enroll on Wealthy Affiliates page so they can learn how to be successful with their Kyäni business.

Another fake scam buster, Ian Ross runs a site called StoppingScams.com. While he claims to write legitimate reviews about companies, he actively promotes Wealthy Affiliates.

Jack Cao runs another Wealth Affiliates scam-busting site called BareNakedScam.com. 

Aside from the obvious conflict of interest, here is the problem with this tactic. Wealthy Affiliates (WA) has nothing to do with any other network marketing business. If you sign up for WA and use their model, not only will it be irrelevant to your MLM, it may even cause you to run afoul of your MLM rules which may lead to lost commissions.

Not only are AdvertScams, StoppingScams and Ethan Vanderbuilt trying to steal you away from the opportunity you are researching, they are openly misleading you with information that could cause you to lose money in your existing business. Most network marketing companies have strict rules on the various ways you can market online, and writing fake reviews is a serious violation.

Top Fake Review Scammers

Jesse Singh is a big promoter of DSDomination, a business opportunity that teaches people how to hawk overpriced drop ship products on marketplaces like eBay or craigslist.

Let’s take a look at the blog posts on his site hotmlmcompanies.com:

  • Poofy Organics Review: Good Organic Company or Scam?
  • Amway Scam Review – Time To Put The Rumors To Rest
  • Pampered Chef Review – Legit MLM or Scam? Find Out Here…
  • Melaleuca Review – Still good or Stay Away?

In each case, he takes poorly sourced information and complies a blog post designed to trick Google into ranking it for the target company brand keyword. While avoids actually calling any of these companies a scam (mostly due to the fact they are all legitimate businesses) he uses the traffic he steals to promote his business opportunity.

Frank Lam Sheung runs a website called StealthSecrets.com. In the top right corner of the site, there is a picture of the fake review scammer holding a check from Wealthy Affiliates. He follows the exact same formula used by Vanderbuilt and most Wealthy Affiliates members.

Nathaniell Brenes may be one of the worst offenders. He goes so far as to attempt to justify his fake reviews on his site OneMoreCupof-Coffee.com by saying he purchases products and then reviews them. We spoke to representatives at two of the companies reviewed by Nathaniell; Kyäni and Melaleuca. They told us that they have no record of him as a customer. So, Brenes is lying about his product purchase in an effort to convince people he is a trustworthy reviewer. The collusion between the scam busters and fake reviewers is made clear when you read this interview. Ian Ross of ScamBusters.com throws softball questions at Nathaniell Brenes and praises him for his “reviews”. Both Ian and Nathaniell are members of Wealthy Affiliates.

There are hundreds more of Empower Network, MLSP, and Wealthy Affiliates fake review scammers listed online. The logical conclusion to explain this cluster of bad behavior may be that the companies are teaching their members how to write fake reviews. One former member of Empower Network admitted to us that they received training from My Lead System Pro (MLSP), one of the oldest blogging pyramid-like schemes.

Companies Targeted by Fake Review Scams

Our research shows that these companies have been targeted heavily by fake reviews:

  • Amway
  • Pampered Chef
  • Mary Kay
  • Melaleuca
  • DoTerra
  • Young Living
  • Kyäni
  • Usana
  • Jamberry Nails
  • Avon

Many of these companies have a successful business history dating back 30+ years and billions of dollars in revenue annually. Questioning the legitimacy of these companies could be compared to asking if Costco is a scam.

Are the top direct selling companies a scam? In our opinion, no, but we are not trying to sell you a Wealthy Affiliates membership.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for exposing the shady techniques of “scam busters” like Ethan Vanderbuilt. To an unsuspecting reader who researches one of the companies he “reviews,” Ethan comes across as a trustworthy expert.

    Isn’t it ironic that these so-called “reviews” usually lead into recommending another product or service? One that conveniently pays a high affiliate commission?

    You call out Wealthy Affiliate members as one of the worst offenders of fake review marketing. We couldn’t agree more. While our company, SiteSell, is not in the MLM industry, Wealthy Affiliate members are targeting our product with their fake reviews.

    They follow exactly the format you outline. They use our brand names (Solo Build It!, formerly called Site Build It! or the short version, SBI!) to attract people searching for us.

    They “review” SBI! using various approaches (from attacking us with untruths and concluding it’s “useless” to a seemingly objective review, calling it “good”). Some use the identical “Wealthy Affiliate vs. SBI!” product comparison tables.

    No matter what they conclude about SBI!, useless or good, they end with their “#1 Recommendation” link to Wealthy Affiliate, “the best.”

    Wealthy Affiliate is a direct competitor to us, so we got curious… are they really “the best” for becoming a successful internet entrepreneur? We did a comprehensive, reproducible study, comparing the success of Wealthy Affiliate customers with our own customers.

    The results are staggering. The study shows that SBI! is 33X more likely to turn a solopreneur (aka small online business owners) into an elite-level performer than Wealthy Affiliate.

    Check out the study for yourself. It has 3 parts, here’s the link to the first one: http://www.sitesell.com/blog/2017/05/wealthy-affiliate-review.html

    Ours is just one of the many companies targeted by these bait-and-switch reviews. In fact, Wealthy Affiliate provides their affiliates with a list of 175 companies that they can “review.”

    The saddest part about all this? That these “scam busters” and fake reviewers mislead people who want to either build their own business online, or promote the products of a legitimate MLM company, into using an inferior product. They use people’s dreams about creating a better life for themselves to line their own pockets.

    Thanks again for having the courage to publish this.

    Best,
    Margit for SiteSell.com

    • Thank you for your insight on WA. We have seen numerous companies get targeted by fake reviews written by members of Wealthy Affiliates. Do they have marketing materials that instruct users how to target specific companies? I’m sure that the companies being targeted legal departments would love to know about this. While it may be unclear if Wealthy Affiliates is breaking any US laws by doing this, their status as a Canadian based company might make them careless about the rules of doing business in the United States.

      As for the scam busters, we especially like the quote in your article that defines fake reviews:

      A fake review can be defined as a positive, neutral or negative review that is not an actual consumer’s honest and impartial opinion or that does not reflect a consumer’s genuine experience of a product, service or business.” – European Parliamentary Research Service, 2015

      That sums up exactly what is wrong with the tactics used by these charlatans masquerading as experts on busting internet scams. As Joel K. (AKA Ethan Vanderbuilt) admits in his comment below, he is not a user or customer of the businesses or products he reviews. Therefore by this definition, he is writing fake reviews and does not have any real credibility.

  2. I keep getting spammed by Wealthy Affiliate scammers. They say that they know the secret to how to grow my MLM business. How would they know anything when all the links and training go to signing up for some stupid website scam. If Ethan Vanderbuilt was a part of this it would make sense. From what I can see of his website EthanVanderbuilt.com, he is using the same scammy click bait headlines the WA scammers use. I am so sick of people like Ethan or any of the other wealthy affiliate assholes who are promoting really unethical marketing.
    I sell a business opportunity that actually helps people. I coach and train my team and have found success building personal relationships, not spamming people on facebook and with email. I don’t know why people keep falling for these fake “scam busters” when all they do is preach hate and ignorance.

  3. I buy products from one of the”MLM’s” Ethan Vanderbuilt loves to complain about. They are quite good and they work. The fact that he trashes company products without ever trying them is so wrong. That alone makes all of the reviews by Vanderbuilt fake. How is that even legal?

  4. You have decided to attack me here on your website. That is fine, but it would be nice if you don’t lie about me to do so.

    You claim that my business is built on a lie. Your proof is that I use a pen name, I don’t have a professional degree, and I do not purchase products or services from these companies that I believe are scams.

    Countless other reporters use pen names. Using a pen name is a common practice when you expect people to attack you for sharing your thoughts. Like you are doing here. A degree is not required to share your opinions on what business you believe are scams. I do not claim to be an expert. You do not need to purchase a product or service when you are reviewing a compensation plan that is freely available to anyone to review. Also, you do not need to give your money to a Nigerien Prince to warn people about that scam as well.

    You fail to list your name and city you live in for this website. Does that make you a liar?

    You claim that I kicked off my scam busting career in 2013 with my Empower Network video.

    I started busting scams long before 2013. In fact, one of the first scams that I took on was a cult called Desteni back in 2010. I also took on Amway before the Empower Network. I know this does not match your lies about me, but don’t let this stand in the way.

    You claim that my one positive review is Wealthy Affiliate.

    I have never published a review of Wealthy Affiliate. I have not had a link to them on my website for years. I do offer a post that covers 10 legitimate ways for people to make money online. I guess you missed this on my home page.

    You claim that my website was founded to build my Wealthy Affiliate business.

    My website was founded to promote my YouTube videos. I was on YouTube years before I made my first video on scams and created my website.

    You are not a very good scam buster. To bust scams you have to speak the truth which you do not do.

    • So it looks like whoever published this website was right about who you really are… that is some pretty good reporting. You have been a scourge on the MLM industry, profiting on writing fake reviews while claiming to be a expert “scambuster”.

      You attack this website which seems to be some kind of conservative political news site that called you out like they are also involved in the scam busting false economy, I did not see any evidence that they are. As for your claims, you do not deny anything that is said about your site’s click bait tactics or that you are exactly like the other scammers listed in the article. So basically you are “Fake News”.

  5. Ethan Vanderbuilt is a piece of work. Trashing companies just to sell wealthy affiliates? That is so messed up. Please share his real name so we can let everyone know the truth about this a**hole. I know a lot of people would be happy to see his website get shut down.

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