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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 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 [] in November, after his company agreed to forfeit $500 million for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place advertisements [] 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 [] without a prescription (screenshot []). In his 2011 Senate testimony [] (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. []

    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.

  • Re:Never Understood (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @06:33PM (#45807971) Journal

    That's basically how cardholder-present transactions work. You enter your pin, the card produces a hash of the recipient, time, and amount, and a shared secret. The merchant then presents the hash, the time and the amount to your card issuer (via some layers of indirection) and they confirm that the transaction is valid. For Internet transactions, unlike in-person transactions, you can guarantee that the recipient has network connectivity, so it's even easier for them to communicate with the bank and verify the hash.

    Some of the schemes for one-time CC numbers actually allow the CC number to be re-used, but it's only valid for one transaction of a specific amount per day. If you want to use it again, you have to correctly guess the amount that it's valid for that day, and put in your fake transaction after the next person to be issued with it requests it, but before they use it.

"Look! There! Evil!.. pure and simple, total evil from the Eighth Dimension!" -- Buckaroo Banzai