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‘Shark Tank’ Stars Say Scammers Use AI to Include Their Images in Bogus Ads

Criminals manipulate their photos and videos in ads for weight-loss products, keto gummies 

spinner image photos of investors from shark tank interspersed with generic products
Photo Illustration: Danielle Del Plato; (Source: Getty Images; Adobe Stock (2); ABC)

The ad that pops up on social media looks legit. It seems to show two stars from the ABC reality show Shark Tank, Lori Greiner and Mark Cuban, holding jars of keto gummies for weight loss, with words in all caps below it: “ON DAY 7, YOUR PANTS WILL NO LONGER FIT YOU!” and a button to “Order now.”

It’s fake. Investor and entrepreneur Greiner and Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, never have endorsed keto gummies, which are supplements sold with claims that they can help with weight loss, energy, focus and more (“keto” refers to the controversial high-fat, very-low-carb ketogenic diet regimen). In fact, none of the Shark Tank investors — or sharks, as they’re known — has ever endorsed a weight-loss supplement, on air or in an ad. “I can tell you, we don’t put keto diet pills on our show,” says Shark Tank executive producer Clay Newbill. “There’s never been a keto diet pill on our show, and there never will be.”

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The popular ABC show, now in its 15th season, features tycoons like Cuban, Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John, who listen to energetic pitches from entrepreneurs hoping for funding to help launch their products — wine that pairs perfectly with pizza, for example, or a yellow sponge with a smiley face. If the investors like the concept, they’ll invest. It’s helped some make millions, including makers of the wildly successful Bombas socks, the Squatty Potty (for easier pooping), and that happy sponge that appeared on the show in 2012. The Sponge Daddy scratch-free cleaning sponges and accompanying products now rake in about $220 million a year. 

Scammers are well aware that a thumbs-up from the sharks can mean big money. So they are relentless in their use of fake Shark Tank seals of approval to sell products — sometimes hair-growth or libido-enhancement supplements, but particularly those claiming to promote weight loss. The majority, for some reason, are various brands of keto gummies, Newbill says.

Some ads are more ridiculous than others, including one featuring a doctored photo of six famous sharks from the show (John, Corcoran, Cuban, Greiner, O’Leary and Herjavec), their slightly too-large heads perched atop slim and buff underwear-clad bodies. Below them are bottles of a brand of keto gummies that you can still find for sale online, including on Amazon.

The sharks are fed up with the fraud. “I don't take weight-loss pills and I don’t take drugs and don’t use marijuana creams and all this stuff,” says shark and Canadian businessman O’Leary, 69. He adds that scammers take advantage of the fact that he’s lost 80 pounds in the last few years, but through lifestyle changes, not supplements, “so of course there’s pictures of fat Kevin and skinny Kevin up there and [the implication is], ‘he did it with these gummies.’ … I don’t touch products like that.”

spinner image fake images of "Shark Tank" hosts promoting weight loss drugs and keto gummies
Courtesy: Lori Greiner

Scam victims stuck with unauthorized, repeated charges

Many of the victims who purchase the products seen in ads like these later reach out to the sharks to complain. Cuban, 65, says, by email, “I’ve gotten probably hundreds of emails over the years asking me why the keto gummies they ordered don’t work. Or why they keep on charging them. Or sending and charging for product they didn’t order…. It’s heartbreaking” and “truly sad that nothing has changed.”

“It can be a nightmare” for people who buy the products and then find that their credit card is charged repeatedly, Newbill says. Once the scam victims notice the charges, they can try to stop payment with their credit card company, he adds, “but it’s a process that nobody wants to go through.”

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline receives a steady stream of reports from victims of these Shark Tank/keto gummy scams, says Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at the Helpline. Recently they’ve include a caller who reported ordering keto pills over a year ago, but the seller has continued to send her more, even as she keeps returning them; and a woman who said she ordered some keto gummies online and was charged more for the initial purchase than expected, as well as an additional $189.  

Scammers’ new tool: AI

While the sharks attempt to fight the fraud, they say they’re facing new challenges in the past 18 months or so with the rise of readily available artificial intelligence (AI) tools, allowing scammers to create more realistic looking ads using celebrities’ images and voices.

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“Just recently they have started to use AI to recreate my voice to sell crazy products,” Cuban notes. “It actually sounds a lot like me, but you can tell it’s not because the lips don’t match my mouth. I’m expecting that the tech will make it hard to determine what is really me or not.”

Where to report fraudulent weight-loss products 

Newbill, too, is alarmed by these videos, including one that he says featured Greiner and singer Kelly Clarkson appearing to promote a weight-loss product. “With the recent improvements in AI, it looks like the scams are going to go to another level [where we’re] actually seeing the person talking about the product.”

He says it appears as though the criminals used existing videos of the two women, manipulating the lips to match the AI-cloned voices, as they apparently did in the video featuring Cuban.  

In December, Greiner posted a video on TikTok with some examples of scam video ads that used her likeness and AI-cloned voice to sell keto gummies. “They are fake. They are scam ads,” she says.

spinner image fake images of "Shark Tank" hosts promoting weight loss drugs and keto gummies
Courtesy: Lori Greiner

 Weight-loss scams — and realities

It’s not only Shark Tank stars’ images that have been misappropriated to advertise weight-loss products. In the past few years Dolly Parton and Oprah Winfrey have been among the celebrities who’ve been included in scammers’ online ads touting CBD or keto gummies. Last year Parton’s publicity team posted a note on Instagram saying as such: “Dolly Parton is not affiliated with, has not endorsed and is not associated with any keto or CBD gummy product. She’s more the cake, cookie, and cornbread type. — Team Dolly.”

So the ads are fake — but do the products work? As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes in a 2023 warning about weight-loss-product scams, “There’s no magic way to lose weight without a sensible diet and regular exercise.”

Last month the FTC sent out another alert about these bogus ads for equally bogus weight-loss products, noting in blunt language:

  • If someone says you don’t have to watch what you eat to lose weight, that’s a scam.
  • If someone says using their product helps you lose weight permanently, that’s a scam.
  • If someone tells you that, to lose weight, all you have to do is take their pill, that’s a scam.

Karen Hobbs, assistant director in the FTC’s Division of Consumer & Business Education, has also warned that “the government doesn’t review supplements for safety or effectiveness before they’re put on the market.” It’s a largely unregulated market, so regardless of how the product is advertised it is difficult to know what you’re buying and how it will affect you. Hobbs suggests consulting your health care professional about whether a supplement is safe for you.

Fighting back

The sharks have complained often about the lack of action from the online platforms that take these ads. In a 2022 Twitter (now X) post, Cuban wrote, “This s--- has been going on for years. We report them, the platforms do nothing and people get ripped off!”

One bit of good news: Last week Google announced that starting in March it will no longer accept ads with fake endorsements. The company claims it will “update the Unacceptable business practices portion of the Misrepresentation policy to include enticing users to part with money or information by impersonating or falsely implying affiliation with or endorsement by a public figure, brand, or organization.” Violators won’t be able to advertise with Google again.

“The platforms — Meta, Google, LinkedIn — are getting better,” O’Leary says, “but the most important thing is education for people.”

You can find a list of all the real Shark Tank products that have been featured on the show on ABC’s site, notes Newbill: “If it’s not listed there, it didn’t appear on Shark Tank."

How to protect yourself from fraud when shopping online

  • Research an unfamiliar product or brand. Search for its name with terms such as “scam” or “complaint,” and look for reviews.​
  • Check that phone numbers and addresses on store sites are genuine, so you can contact the seller in case of problems. 
  • Carefully read delivery, exchange, refund and privacy policies. If they are vague or nonexistent, take your business elsewhere.​• Look twice at URLs. Misplaced or transposed letters in URLs similar to those of legitimate sellers are a scam giveaway.
  • If the claims sound too good to be true, they probably are.
  • As the FTC’s Hobbs noted above, if you’re considering a dietary supplement, first talk to your health care provider to see if it is advisable, particularly in light of your prescription medications.

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.