Auckland University is seeking legal advice, after a bogus online “miracle-cure” scam used fake quotes from former Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield to sell sham health products.
The ad for “Blood Balance” capsules by a company using the name “Guardian Botanicals” led to a mock article, featuring an alleged “exclusive” interview with Sir Ashley – in which he calls hypertension a “doctors’ fairly-tale” for which people “pay with money and health”.
Quotes attributed to Bloomfield - who is a Professor in the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland - claimed the pill will “clean up and tone blood vessels, causing almost all chronic and incurable diseases to go away”.
Those promised results have been rubbished by General Practice New Zealand chair Dr Bryan Betty, who dubbed it a “total fabrication”.
“I think someone like Ashley has a high public profile. He’s a trusted name in the media and trusted over what happened with Covid, therefore scammers are looking to take those public personas and attach them to fake products.”
A University of Auckland spokesperson said they’re concerned such an obviously fake advert ran on the website of a major media channel.
“Dr Ashley Bloomfield has no connection to the product or company advertised and did not take part in an interview as claimed in the advertisement.”
They said Bloomfield’s name and image have been used without his knowledge or approval.
“We are referring this matter to our legal office for advice on what the University can do when an academic’s reputation is misrepresented by the use of fake images and quotes.”
The ad ran on Stuff, but – after being alerted to its presence by Newstalk ZB – a spokesperson for the news site said the fake ad, masquerading as an article, has been removed.
“Stuff works with third-party advertising networks that buy and sell advertising using automated methods. This enables advertisers to book and place ads across a variety of sites at any one time.”
Director of Digital Revenue and Strategy John Buckley said it appears “bad actors” used a sophisticated method to bypass Stuff’s website rules, similar to how an email may bypass a spam filter.
“As technology evolves, so too do the tactics used by these sorts of advertisers to bypass publishers’ rules,” Buckley said.
He said Stuff does not approve of the advertisement, and is working with Google to get it blocked at the source – to stop the advertisement from appearing across other websites.
It’s not the first time a notable figure has been impersonated in a dubious advert.
Just last week, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was targeted by digital creators depicting him announcing his “favourite” pornography sites online.
The banner, which imitated the customary National Party blue and used a photograph of Luxon, appeared on popular pornographic website Pornhub.
The University said the interview and advertisement which used Bloomfield’s likeness is an obvious fake and full of basic errors.
“The product has been identified as a known scam and people should not purchase products through the link.”
The litany of errors include calling Bloomfield New Zealand’s “Chief Medical Officer” and director of the “Public Health Communication Centre” – positions he has never held.
GPNZ’s Dr Betty said health professionals are seeing an increase in scams which feature prominent doctors.
“It’s gravely concerning,” he said.
“It has happened to me personally. Patients are more likely to give validity to the [products] claims, because you are well known.
“I would not be going for one of these products unless you’ve spoken with your doctor. They are potentially dangerous.”
Demelza Jackson is a political reporter, based at Parliament in Wellington. She joined Newstalk ZB in 2019 and specialised in climate and environment issues, before moving to the Press Gallery in 2023.
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