LOS ANGELES, CA (FOX 11) - This is a FOX 11 News Investigation:
They claim to turn back time, taking away wrinkles, making you look decades younger. Skin cream companies, using fake endorsements from A-list celebrities to tout their products online, and reel customers in.
A months long FOX 11 investigation has uncovered a nationwide scam designed to get to you and your money, and we found one of the alleged masterminds behind it right here in the Los Angeles area.
The premise is simple, yet effective.
Skincare companies create online pop up advertisements featuring big name celebrities endorsing their "miracle" products, or at least, that's what they want you to think. The ads say that for just a small shipping free, you can try these "revolutionary" products for free, but it's all bogus. The ads with the celebrities are all fake, and they're designed to get a hold of your credit card and never let it go, charging hundreds of dollars after the initial shipping fee.
One ad features Pauley Perrette, best known for her role as "Abby Sciuto" on the hit TV show NCIS. The ad claims that Perrette is leaving NCIS to pursue a skin care line and promote her anti aging products.
Complete with fake storylines and quotes, the ad looks legit, it features before and after photos, reviews from other celebrities, and tells consumers if they want to give Perrette's product a try, all they have to do is pay shipping, and they'll get a free bottle.
"This is false, this is not true, I do not have a skincare company," Perrette said as she held the ad while sitting down with FOX 11 in Hollywood. "At first it was kind of an eye roll like whatever, but then the more I found out about this and how they are actually using my image to steal from my fans, this is serious. People get signed up for this "free trial" and it ends up costing them hundreds of dollars."
Perrette isn't the only celebrity being targeted by the ads.
One ad says Chelsea Clinton is now the richest Clinton because of her skincare line, her products are evidently so good, that the ad claims both Hillary Clinton and Ivanka Trump have endorsed them.
Another ad claims that Princess Kate Middleton is going to spend time away from the Royal Family to promote her new skincare line, rated #1 by dermatologists.
Angelina Jolie, Melania Trump, the list goes on and on, most of the fake ads pop up on Facebook, and ironically, there's even one using the likeness of Priscilla Chan, the wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The skincare products the ads promote all have different names, but they have the same sales pitch, for just a mall shipping fee, you can get a free sample bottle.
For Beth Massimino, it all started when a flash advertisement caught her attention.
"It said something about Shark Tank, and that caught my eye because those guys are my heroes," she said. "This must be a new way to rip people off."
The ad was convincing.
It said in what was the most watched episode of Shark Tank in history, every judge endorsed a miracle skincare product called New Lift Anti Aging Serum.
"If everyone agrees on this [product] it must be really good, and I'm always looking for a way to look younger because I'm old, I have 8-year-old twins and I'm always being mistaken as their grandmother," Massimino said.
She was sold. She used her credit card to pay a shipping fee to get her free sample of the product.
"When I got it in the mail I was so excited," she said. "I was in the bathroom every day, looking, looking, was it working? And, no change of course."
What did change, were her credit card bills.
"They started charging my credit card $80 a month for the last 7 or 8 months," she said.
By the time Massimino cancelled her card, she says the scammers had gotten over $500 from her. A Shark Tank spokesperson confirmed to FOX 11, that "New Lift Anti Aging Serum" never appeared on their show.
"A bubble just burst inside of me because I look up to those people so much," she said.
"This is one of the biggest ripoffs I've seen in the last 20 years," said Ed Magedson, the founder of Ripoffreport.com.
Magedson says his website has received hundreds upon hundreds of complaints from consumers about the fake skincare ads, their stories, all sound the same.
"I paid $2.97 for postage," he said, while reading a complaint. "Two weeks later, $86 was charged onto my Visa, then a week later, another $89.99 charged on my Visa."
So who are the people behind these skin care ads?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, at least in one case, one of them is a man named Alon Nottea. Nottea was one of several Clifornia based marketers charged by the FTC in 2015 for deceptive marketing and billing tactics.
According to the complaint, Nottea was a manager of Bunzai Media Group, and was deceptively marketing a product called Auravie through the use of flash advertisements and hidden costs.
In October 2016, the FTC settled with Nottea and the other defendants. They were ordered to pay $72 million in restitution, but the amount was reduced to $2.7 million based on the defendant's ability to pay.
The FOX 11 investigative team was able to track Nottea down in Winetca, CA, and he wasn't happy about our cameras, or our questions, so he pulled out a phone and began filming our crew.
We told Nottea about our story, and asked for his response.
"I have many explanations, I feel that I was wrongfully accused, I feel the whole case with the fraud, I feel I was made an example out of," he said. "So what's the issue?".
Although the FTC says Nottea was one of the people behind the deceptive skincare ads in the past, it's unclear who is responsible for the current ones.
Perrette says, it's time for the other stars to step forward, and disavow the ads.
"I am asking, I am begging the other celebrities, and there's a lot of us who they're doing it to, to please speak out," she said. "We've got to speak up for our fans, we've got to do it."