Scammers are using celebrity cook Maggie Beer’s image and name without authorisation to spruik hemp gummies and CBD oil, ripping off unsuspecting customers.
The ads falsely promises to help with a range of health complaints, and in some cases uses customers’ details to then charge them in addition to the advertised amount.
Complaints about the hoax now make up more than a third of the celebrity scams reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. From the start of this year to 31 August, the ACCC’s Scamwatch received more than 485 reports of scams “using the name, image or likeness of celebrities to sell fraudulent products or promote cryptocurrency investment scams”, the ACCC said in a statement.
“Losses associate with this type of scam exceed $1.08m.
“In the same period, Scamwatch has received over 180 reports with losses of more than $48,000 impersonating Maggie Beer trying to sell products such as hemp gummies or CBD oil for pain relief.”
Often, once the scammer has someone’s credit card details they will charge the card multiple times or sign the person up to an expensive subscription service.
The ads conflate hemp oil extract with CBD oil, although they are two different things. The packaging claims the gummies contain hemp oil, which may have some nutritional benefits, but only in much larger quantities.
The ads falsely promise to help with weight loss, pain relief, diabetes, anxiety, indigestion, depression and preventing constipation.
Adelaide resident Pete Hart saw an advertisement on Facebook featuring Beer – who has condemned the false use of her name – promoting the use of the gummies. He signed up for a sample at $80. More than $500 was charged to his credit card.
When Hart complained, he was offered “discounts” on the amount charged if he didn’t tell his bank.
“I realised it was absolute bullshit … I was quite happy to have a trial for about $80 but when the invoice came through it was $500,” he says.
“I said to them, look, I have met Maggie Beer, she’s a lovely woman and she would be beside herself … this is a bloody scam.
“I just wanted to see if there was going to be a bit of relief. They’re just preying on the afflicted.”
The gummies claim to contain 100% organic hemp oil extract. They appear visually identical to lolly gummy bears, and the ingredient list is almost identical to a popular US brand of lollies.
Beer has had to warn people that she is not associated with the products in any way.
“Please, it has nothing to do with me,” she said in a video posted on her official Facebook page. “Take care, check facts, and look after yourself.”
One number listed for the company selling the gummies is not connected. The only other number advertised, for customer support, told Guardian Australia there was no one who could discuss the matter, and hung up.
Dave Lacey is the managing director of IDCare, a not-for-profit that helps victims of scams and identity theft. He said “crooks” – usually based overseas – sneak ads on to social media sites by creating ones that pass initial scrutiny, then change them once they’re published. They are sophisticated enough to target specific audiences.
“The Maggie Beer scam will appeal to a particular demographic,” he said. “They … specifically target the consumer in clever ways.
“Anything where a person with a public profile is promoting a product or service, jump online and search that person and quite often they’re out there saying ‘Listen, I don’t promote any of this stuff.’”
The ACCC is working with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, telcos, the Australian Financial Crimes Exchange and not-for-profit organisations to warn people about scams, particularly those affecting culturally and linguistically diverse communities.