Targeted advertising is a popular topic of online comment threads, memes, and a favorite punchline of late-night monologues. Your personal data tells a lot about you. This is concerning when you consider what scammers might do with it. There are many reasons personal information is highly coveted. The Division of Consumer Protection wants you to think about who’s targeting you in advertising and what exactly they’re selling.
The FTC recently released a report about the rise of “dark patterns” in advertising. They’re designed to trick and trap consumers. Dark patterns include misleading ads, hiding important information about a purchase, tricking consumers into sharing data, and making it difficult to cancel subscriptions. These patterns leave consumers locked into transactions they never meant to agree to by design.
Research the Product Before You Buy
DCP has some tips on how to do more thorough research when deciding on an uncertain purchase:
- Look closely at the content you find in online searches. Scammers know how to influence search results. In some cases, they’ve created websites, fake reviews, and sponsored content to boost confidence in their schemes. Ask yourself if you’ve heard of the publications that show up in your search and how trustworthy they may be.
- Verify popular endorsements. Does the product claim to be from a popular TV show or have a celebrity endorsement? Those claims may not be true. Check the celebrity’s verified social media profile (verified profiles have a blue checkmark by the name). It’s likely you’ll find evidence of endorsements there. If the product claims an association with another popular brand (Shark Tank, As Seen on TV, Consumer Reports, etc.), visit the trusted brand’s website to verify the claim.
- Read the fine print. Being purposely vague about what you’re actually buying is a common dark pattern. Sometimes, a consumer might think they’re buying one product, but they are actually paying for a hard-to-cancel subscription. It’s only later when checking their bank account, they realize they’re still being charged. Make sure you’re clear on the details before buying.
Visit consumerprotection.utah.gov to learn more about scams and to find information about businesses within Utah that DCP regulates.
Have you seen any dark patterns in advertising? Share your story with us at consumerprotection.utah.gov/complaints.