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Crime Advertising Spam The Almighty Buck The Courts The Internet

How the Dark Lord of the Internet Made His Fortunes 60

Posted by timothy
from the deserves-a-brick-through-the-window dept.
theodp writes "Over at The Atlantic, Taylor Clark's epic Jesse Willms, the Dark Lord of the Internet tells the tale of how one of the most notorious alleged hustlers in the history of e-commerce made a fortune on the Web. 'Accusing Willms of being a scammer,' Clark writes, 'does him a disservice; what he accomplished elicits something close to awe, even among his critics.' The classic themes Willms' company employed in 'sponsored' links for products that included colon cleansers, teeth whiteners, and acai supplements, Clark reports, included dubious scientific claims and fake articles ('farticles'); implied endorsements from celebrities and TV networks; incredible 'testimonials"; manipulative plays on insecurities ('You wouldn't have to worry about being the 'fat bridesmaid' at your sister's wedding!'); and 'iron-clad' guarantees that 'free trials' of the products were absolutely 'risk free.' But beneath his promises of a 'free trial,' the FTC alleged, Willms buried an assortment of charges in the fine print of his terms and conditions. After the 14-day trial period for each product, customers automatically became enrolled in monthly subscription plans, for up to $80 a month. 'The product was never the point,' explained an FTC attorney. 'The point was to get as many hits on each credit card as you could.' Despite a publicized $359 million settlement with the FTC, Jesse Willms is doing just fine financially-and he has a new yellow Lamborghini to prove it. After settling his tax debts, Willms surrendered his assets of just $991,000 to get the financial judgment suspended. Willms has left diet products behind and pivoted into information services. 'As of November,' Clark notes, 'if you searched vehicle history on Google, Yahoo, or Bing, ads for Willms's sites were among the first things you would see.'"
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How the Dark Lord of the Internet Made His Fortunes

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  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Saturday December 28, 2013 @04:02PM (#45807197) Homepage Journal
    . . .would have been a political career.
  • Let me guess (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ArchieBunker (132337) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @04:23PM (#45807321) Homepage

    His fines are still less than what his income was? Oh and some probation will really punish him too!

    • Re:Let me guess (Score:5, Insightful)

      by StikyPad (445176) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @04:54PM (#45807459) Homepage

      The government doesn't so much want to eliminate corruption as much as they want a cut of it.

      • Ivan Boesky gave the SEC Drexel Burnham Lambert's prodigal son. Then, Michael Milkin paid a $600 million dollar fine in 1989 for 'irregularities' in the junk bond market, serving two years at Club Fed after a ten year sentence was reduced for his cooperative efforts. He was listed in the Forbes 2010 list at #488 with a net worth of about $two $billion.

        So yeah, It's fair to say one receives a fair amount of justice relative to one's resources.

        Do you really think an ability to pay egregious fines is not

        • Re:Let me guess (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Connie_Lingus (317691) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @09:57PM (#45808913) Homepage

          peanuts my dear man...and so unfashionably retro btw. the 80's??? please...

          haven't you heard?..like a month ago JC Morgan Chase admitted to the wholesale rape of its customers during the mortgage rip-off of the 00's.

          total confession...felonious activities by perhaps thousands of its employees, ripping-off people of untold billions. knowingly and ADMITTEDLY!

          the result of this coordinated criminal actively that makes what organized crime does look like a church bingo game?

          a $13 billion settlement where all the felons involved get to stay in their jobs and continue their lifestyles [businessweek.com], without nary a blemish on any of their "permanent" records.

          it's disgusting to me that these people are allowed to simply pay-off the government, USING OTHER PEOPLE'S (the shareholders of JP Morgan Chase) MONEY, and get to continue their high-flying lifestyles while other "criminals", who perhaps get caught with user-quantity level of recreational drugs, get charged as felons and watch their lives become utterly ruined.

          this guy is another example of our "justice" system that allows wealthy people to purchase there way out of legal problems...it's all corrupt as hell.

      • by cas2000 (148703)

        Libertarian propagandists and their useful idiots manage to twist any fact and every event so that everything is always the government's fault. Government can do no good, ever, and has no purpose other than to steal your property.

        a conman rips off hundreds of millions? re-frame it as the "government wants their cut", so they're the ones to blame. then you can get on with that vile american habit of *admiring* successful con-men rather than hating and despising them.

        do you american morons even realise that

        • by nobuddy (952985)

          There is a difference between prosecuting crime properly and taking a cut.

          make $2B in fraud, fined $300M for it... that's taking a cut.

          Fined $2.3B for it, as well as prosecuting every case? THAT'S justice as well as deterrence. So long as the profit exceeds the fines, the law will be merely calculated as a business cost and ignored.

  • by alen (225700) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @04:26PM (#45807333)

    scam the public
    make money
    hire lawyers
    throw some cash at the gubment
    profit

    • scam the public
      make money
      hire lawyers
      throw some cash at the gubment
      profit

      And don't forget a gushy story on Slashdot...

  • NOT a dark lord! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spy Handler (822350) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @04:44PM (#45807423) Homepage Journal

    Dark Lord of the internet would mean he has immense powers, like being able to silence anyone by remotely rooting their computer and choking their network interface... while saying things like, "I find your lack of faith disturbing. And commanding a fleet of zombie botnets that can DDOS large corporate networks.

    This guy is just a bait-and-switch con man like any other before him that have existed throughout history. He just scaled it up a notch by using internet spam techniques and getting people's credit cards.

    • This guy is just a bait-and-switch con man like any other before him that have existed throughout history. He just scaled it up a notch by using internet spam techniques and getting people's credit cards.

      So, more of a wet fart who used the internet to scale up to the level of a hershey squirt.

    • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @06:25PM (#45807927) Journal

      ...while saying things like, "I find your lack of faith disturbing."

      That's your generic Dark Lord, your internet Dark Lord would say "I find your lack of windows disturbing." or "I am altering the website's terms of service. Pray I don't alter them any further.".

  • Not so bad. (Score:3, Funny)

    by mindwanderer (1169521) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @04:49PM (#45807439)
    Dark Lord of the internet? Please, it's not like he pirated music or anything.
    • by Rick Zeman (15628)

      Dark Lord of the internet? Please, it's not like he pirated music or anything.

      Next time he's in the US they can bust him for downloading a song. That's clean out his fortune!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Or, put another way: You, as an online consumer, are on your own. You cannot trust the Web’s gatekeepers to protect you from suspicious operators,

    All telemarketers, email offers and Internet Ads are scams.

    No exceptions.

  • by theodp (442580) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @04:59PM (#45807497)

    Willms isn't the only one to survive and thrive after the government imposed a huge Internet ad-related fine. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt even managed to get named to the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees [mayoclinic.org] in November, after his company agreed to forfeit $500 million for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place advertisements [justice.gov] through its AdWords program targeting consumers in the U.S., resulting in the unlawful importation of controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs. In December, the Mercury News reported on Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's ongoing efforts to stop Google from making it too easy to buy drugs online [mercurynews.com] without a prescription (screenshot [searchengineland.com]). In his 2011 Senate testimony [gpo.gov] (PDF), Schmidt said "we absolutely regret what happened. It [drug advertising] was a mistake," and replied "Absolutely" when asked if Google had "taken steps to make sure that that sort of thing never happens again."

    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @05:39PM (#45807657)

      This is a very murky area of the law. In the US pharmaceutical prices are the highest in the world due to laws favoring favoring drug companies. For example one drug that I take (I have a prescription) costs nearly $700 a month, even with an insurance plan, while in Canada the cost is $160.

      Prices are also rising significantly faster than inflation.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prescription_drug_prices_in_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]

      There are other issues with prescription drugs in the US, including collusion between insurers (including kickbacks) to keep generics of the market after patents expire, and egregious manipulation of patent laws that keep some drugs on patent on the US when everywhere else in the world they are off-patent.

      As any economist would predict this creates a black market, and other channels to satisfy demand for lower priced drugs. Legitimate Canadian pharmacies offer their services in filling US prescriptions at Canadian prices. As you might imagine this pisses of the US pharmaceutical companies to no end.

      While I agree that some disreputable pharmacies were using Google Adwords to sell dangerous drugs without a prescription, I think that the more powerful motivation here was to choke off Canadian pharmacies from selling needed drugs to US patients with prescriptions at lower than US prices.

      • by sribe (304414)

        While I agree that some disreputable pharmacies were using Google Adwords to sell dangerous drugs without a prescription...

        Even worse than dangerous drugs, some were selling counterfeit drugs. Now, those were Indian outfits, not Canadian ones. But the FDA kind of views them the same, outside the U.S. dodging regulations so therefore no quality control.

  • No. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 28, 2013 @05:15PM (#45807555)

    'Accusing Willms of being a scammer,' Clark writes, 'does him a disservice; what he accomplished elicits something close to awe, even among his critics.'

    No, scammer is quite apt, and the summary fails to mention anything that makes him deserving of any awe. Nothing but common scum, it seems; successful scum, but scum nonetheless.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    not celebrated for for how clever there evil is

  • Um, doesn't this:

    dubious scientific claims and fake articles ('farticles'); implied endorsements from celebrities and TV networks; incredible 'testimonials"; manipulative plays on insecurities ('You wouldn't have to worry about being the 'fat bridesmaid' at your sister's wedding!'); and 'iron-clad' guarantees that 'free trials' of the products were absolutely 'risk free.' But beneath his promises of a 'free trial,' the FTC alleged, Willms buried an assortment of charges in the fine print of his terms and c

  • That's spelled s-l-a-s-h-v-e-r-t-i-s-e-m-e-n-t you insensitive clod!

  • by rmstar (114746)

    There are a couple of things I found quite disturbing about this story.

    One was how easily he got off from prosecution. To mention just one episode,

    "It was an out-and-out hijacking," LeFevre told me. "They counterfeited our product, they pirated our Web site, and they basically directed all of their customer service to us."

    So how come this Jesse guy not in jail? Isn't that fraud, piracy, etc?

    Another disturbing thing in this article is that it turns out people actually click on shady adds for colon cleansers

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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