Bev Binder has been a supporter of the David Suzuki Foundation for years. So when she saw a Facebook ad for CBD gums with his name on it, she took the chance to buy it.
“I thought, oh, this could benefit the David Suzuki Foundation,” said Binder, who regularly uses CBD to treat her arthritis.
She clicked her way through from Facebook to a website called Gleaming Premium Natural. Within moments of making a purchase with a credit card, she felt like she had been misled because she was being billed for an additional product that she hadn’t added to her cart.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than a dozen important cannabinoid chemicals produced by the cannabis plant. Products are legal in Canada and are widely used to treat chronic pain.
The Vancouver-based David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), which does not sell any CBD products, is sounding the alarm as more and more people like Binder are falling victim to the online program, which includes a number of fraudulent websites.
The foundation says there are dozens of confirmed victims but fears the numbers could be much higher as fake articles about the product continue to circulate online despite calls for help from authorities.
A website posing as media giant NBC Universal publishes a fraudulent article alleging David Suzuki is in a lawsuit with Kevin O’Leary over a range of CBD gums. (Mprint-items.com)
“It was pretty frustrating,” said Brendan Glauser, communications director at DSF. “We reported this to everyone, from the RCMP to the local police units to Facebook itself.”
Glauser says Facebook unearthed around 20 accounts spreading the scam, but only a handful were removed. CBC News has asked Facebook for a comment.
The Suzuki name
Fake articles circulating on the Internet, including one on a website purporting to be NBC Universal, boast that David Suzuki and Canadian star Kevin O’Leary are involved in a CBD gummies legal battle.
The counterfeit items then link to an online shop where users can buy the Suzuki branded products.
Binder, who lives in Abbotsford, BC, says she was in a hurry to visit the online store and was moved to buy by the Suzuki name.
“It was his name that completely broke all the barriers I normally have when buying something, especially on Facebook, without really doing research,” she said.
This fake CBD company is using its online portal to trick customers into giving away their credit card information. (glossypremiumnatural.com)
Binder says $ 300 was charged to her credit card before she canceled it minutes later. She reported the incident to the RCMP.
56 cases so far
The foundation has confirmed that at least 56 people have been victims of the fraud since it first appeared in July, and DSF expects the list to keep growing.
The police ask the population to refer cases of fraud to the local emergency services. Glauser says the Vancouver police are investigating.
The foundation also reported the fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center.
“The fraudsters are obviously pretty clever too,” said Glauser. “It’s been over two months now and they’re still doing well.”
Glauser says the incidents show the growing need for tools to stop the spread of fraud and misinformation online.
“It shows real cracks in the foundation of our democracy, our ability to see online what is fake and what is real.”