Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News host who was ousted from the network after paying at least six women a total of $45 million to settle sexual harassment lawsuits, is making his comeback.
Having lost his massive platform where he used to tell black people they looked like drug dealers, O’Reilly has found a new grift: urging Americans to pay for investment advice from a subsidiary of a company that has been repeatedly accused of peddling false information to consumers.
O’Reilly has appeared in nearly 1,000 Facebook advertisements since August promoting “Liberty Through Wealth,” an initiative paid for by The Oxford Club. Named to reflect a “combination of old-world sensibility and modern technology,” according to its own description, The Oxford Club sells subscriptions to newsletters containing investment advice its ads claim can make readers rich — just like O’Reilly.
Facebook advertising has been a boon for scammers. The platform provides a relatively inexpensive way for advertisers to micro-target consumers based on their location, education level, interests and political leanings.
During one week in early November, Liberty Through Wealth was the tenth-highest political ad spender on Facebook, purchasing $91,775 worth of ads. Clicking through the ad prompts the viewer to buy a subscription that costs between $49 to $99 a year. The subscription comes with a copy of O’Reilly’s new book and a report that promises “you’ll discover the company that’s trying to WIPE OUT cancer with its proprietary genetics testing tools, catching cancer long before it’s a threat.”
O’Reilly did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about how much he is being paid for the partnership.
HuffPost reached out to Facebook on Friday to ask if The Oxford Club’s ads violated the platform’s prohibition on “deceptive, false, or misleading claims.” Six hours later, Facebook spokesperson Crystal Davis said the ads would be removed for violating company policies. The ads started disappearing soon after.
The Oxford Club’s parent company is The Agora, a Baltimore-based publishing company with dozens of subsidiaries that publish books and newsletters about investing, health supplements and luxury travel. Much of the material Agora publishes is misleading, if not outright false.
One of the ways Agora gets people to read its factually dubious claims is by paying famous conservative people and organizations to lend their name recognition and email lists to the cause. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Herman Cain, and the Daily Caller have all partnered with Agora-owned entities, according to Media Matters’ Eric Hananoki, who has subscribed to “several hundred right-wing email lists” to document the grift.
These partnerships accentuate Agora’s bad investment advice and pseudoscientific health claims with a dose of partisan conspiratorial fear-mongering. Earlier this year, subscribers to Hannity’s digital mailing list received an email asking: “Did These Dems Cover Up a TRUE Cancer Cure?” The email, sponsored by Agora subsidiary OmniVistaHealth, links to a video of a man who claims he can cure cancer, diabetes, dementia and heart disease. It encourages the reader to sign up for a paid newsletter that costs $37-$74.
In October, the Federal Trade Commission sued Agora Financial, another subsidiary, for violating the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive practices affecting commerce. The FTC alleged that Agora Financial had been telling consumers that Trump’s new tax law entitled them to thousands of dollars in “Congressional Checks.” To make the seemingly too-good-to-be-true claim appear convincing, some marketing materials included doctored congressional financial disclosure reports that purportedly showed that then-Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had received a $410,000 Congressional Check, according to the FTC’s complaint.
Issa’s actual financial disclosure report, which is publicly available, shows no record of receiving the check, the FTC noted in its complaint.
To learn how to take advantage of this nonexistent perk, Agora Financial’s readers were prompted to buy a book called ”Congress’ Secret $1.17 Trillion Giveaway.” But the book does not give instructions on how to get a so-called “Congressional Check,” the FTC alleged. Instead, it advises consumers to invest in dividend stocks.
The FTC also discovered that a separate Agora company claimed that computers, televisions and cell phones could cause diabetes through radiation. For $249, the consumer could learn how to reverse the problem. One promotional video asked the consumer to envision the first thing they would do when they got rid of their diabetes. “Will you go out to your favorite restaurant and enjoy a big stack of pancakes loaded with syrup — never worrying about what it’s doing to your blood sugar?”
Agora bought The Oxford Club in 1991 from a South Florida stock promoter named Joel Nadel. Nadel published market newsletters, including one he called the Royal Society of Liechtenstein. “Investors who followed his newsletters’ tips frequently found themselves holding worthless shares,” The New York Times reported. The Better Business Bureau eventually decided the Royal Society of Liechtenstein was a misleading name for a company based in Florida and ordered Nadel to stop publishing the newsletter. Instead, Nadel changed the company’s name to The Oxford Club.
In 1991, the U.S. Postal Service obtained a warrant to freeze nearly $7 million of Nadel’s assets based on charges that he violated mail-fraud and money-laundering statutes by running a direct-mail “sweepstakes.” Needing to free up some funds, Nadel sold The Oxford Club to Bill Bonner, the founder of Agora.
A few years later, a reader who claimed to have lost $128,000 after following investment advice in one of Agora’s paid newsletters sued the publishing giant. A Maryland district judge ruled that Agora was protected from liability by the First Amendment.
In 2002, Frank Porter Stansberry, the editor of two Agora-owned newsletters, emailed subscribers to at least 15 of Agora’s newsletters, promising them the opportunity to double their money “ON THIS SUPER INSIDER TIP.” Stansberry claimed to have inside information about a nuclear disarmament agreement that would create billions in profits for a single company. For just $1,000, Stansberry would share the details with subscribers — and get a cut of the sales.
Stansberry never acted on his own tip, which turned out to be worthless. Agora’s newsletters “contain nothing more than baseless speculation and outright lies, fabricated to induce investors to pay Agora (or its subsidiaries) for subscriptions or purported inside information,” the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in a complaint. Stansberry and his company were ordered to pay $1.5 million in penalties and restitution, Mother Jones reported; Agora was again cleared of wrongdoing.
Stansberry got into trouble again in 2011 after promoting a publication titled “Get Social Security No Matter What Your Age” and claiming to have “insiders” at the Social Security Administration. His company, still a subsidiary of Agora, paid a $55,000 penalty. The next year, the Food and Drug Administration told Agora that a brand owned by one of its subsidiaries was illegally claiming a health supplement was an anti-cancer drug, Mother Jones reported.
The Oxford Club paid Facebook more than $350,000 before the tech giant took the ads down. Despite Facebook’s policies against misleading advertisements, the platform has been slow to remove misinformation until it is called out publicly. Earlier this month, HuffPost revealed that a for-profit company based in California was using Facebook ads to suggest it could sell legitimate concealed-carry gun permits to customers. The group ran 25,000 ads and paid Facebook more than $6.4 million since last spring, which is as far back as Facebook’s public ad library goes. Facebook had conducted reviews of the fake gun permit company in the past and found that the ads did not violate its policy.
After HuffPost contacted Facebook about the gun permit ads while reporting on that story, a spokesperson said the ads indeed violated company policy and would no longer be shown.
Minor adjustments have been made to clarify the attribution of certain statements to an FTC-filed court complaint.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.