Bev Binder has been a supporter of the David Suzuki Foundation for years, so when she saw a Facebook advertisement for CBD gummies featuring his name, she jumped at the chance to buy them.
"I thought, oh, well this is something that could benefit the David Suzuki Foundation," said Binder, who uses CBD regularly to treat her arthritis.
She clicked through from Facebook to a site called Gleaming Premium Natural. Within moments of making the purchase with a credit card, she got the feeling that she might have been duped, because she was charged for an extra product that she didn't put in her cart.
The Vancouver-based David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), which doesn't sell CBD products of any kind, is sounding the alarm as more and more people like Binder fall victim to the online scheme, which includes a series of fraudulent websites.
The foundation says there are dozens of confirmed victims, but it fears the numbers could be much higher, as fake articles about the product continue to circulate online despite calls for help from authorities.
"It has been quite frustrating," said Brendan Glauser, a communications director with DSF. "We've reported this to everybody from the RCMP to local police detachments to Facebook themselves."
Glauser says Facebook unearthed about 20 accounts propagating the scam, but just a handful have been removed. CBC News has reached out to Facebook for comment.
The Suzuki name
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than a dozen major cannabinoid chemicals produced by the cannabis plant. Products are legal in Canada and are often used to treat chronic pain.
Fake articles circulating online, including one on a website pretending to be the media organization NBC Universal, boast that David Suzuki and Canadian celebrity Kevin O'Leary are embroiled in a legal battle over the CBD gummies.
The fake articles then link to an online shop where users can buy the Suzuki-branded products.
Binder, who lives in Abbotsford, B.C., says she was in a hurry when she visited the online shop and was swayed by the Suzuki name to purchase them.
"It was his name that totally got through all the barriers that I usually have around buying something, especially on Facebook, without really researching it," she said.
Binder says her credit card was charged $300 before she cancelled it minutes later. She has reported the incident to RCMP.
56 cases so far
The foundation has confirmed at least 56 people have fallen victim to the scam since it first arose in July, and DSF expects the list to keep growing.
Police are urging people to refer instances of fraud to local detachments. Glauser says the Vancouver Police Department is conducting an investigation.
The foundation has also reported the scam to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
"The scammers are clearly quite sophisticated, too," said Glauser. "It's been over two months now and they're still going successfully."
Glauser says the incidents show the growing need for tools to stop the spread of scams and online misinformation.
"It shows real cracks in the foundation of our democracy, our ability to tell what's fake and what's real online."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter:
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