For years, Don Lapre offered up a too good to be true story about how we would all be mega-millionaires if we only followed his advice. Just send him some money now and he would be more than happy to tell us all of his secrets to making it big.
Now the government says 220,000 people were defrauded by this guy, to the tune of at least $532 million. Lapre used broadcast and cable television to get his fraudulent message across.
My question is: what is the responsibility of the TV networks here? I’m sure he’s screwed them out of some money as well, but do they even bother to do any kind of due diligence before accepting advertising such as his? What about a few weeks in, when everyone had seen the spots? Didn’t any network executive say to themselves “Is this guy for real?” How about when SNL did a sketch about him? Nothing?
When I was with CBS Radio, I couldn’t even run a spot for a costume contest on Halloween without having everything delineated in writing by the advertiser. You would think that the networks would have some sort of policy in place to assure that these snake oil salesmen don’t use their spot inventory to commit fraud.
Does it show contempt for one’s audience when the broadcaster doesn’t seem to care that the advertiser is shilling for something that is just too good to be true? Is it more important to get the business and close the deal than to protect the financial interests of your viewers?
My guess is that the networks will probably say ‘we will offer our support in any way we can’ when it comes to finding this guy and putting him in jail for good. But the truth is, had they been a little more skeptical early on in the game, the scam might not have succeeded at all. And 220,000 of their viewers would have a few more bucks in their wallets.