Celebrity chef Annabel Langbein is considering legal action against Facebook and Google for allowing scammers to use her image to lure in victims.

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The ads lead to fake news articles that she's quitting the food business to launch a skincare line.

There is international precedent for legal action on these grounds.


A UK celebrity settled a defamation case against Facebook over scammers using his name and image in ads for bogus Bitcoin investments. And last month a Dutch court ruled for Facebook to pull ads that misused the likeness of a local celebrity to promote dodgy cryptocurrency investments.

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After Langbein's followers informed her of the scam in April, she has reported numerous ads to Facebook and Google.

She's now stuck in a whack-a-mole situation where as soon as she reports a scam ad, another pops up.

From the ad, victims are led through to a site with a fake news story about Langbein launching a skincare line and are prompted to buy a sample, which never arrives. Or it does arrive and the site continues to suck money from the victim's account.

The Weekend Herald spoke to one victim who followed the ad and bought the $13.45 product because she trusts Langbein, but only realised it was a scam when it was too late.

She alerted her bank but it was too late - the money was gone. She's just thankful it wasn't more.

The fake news stories are incredibly detailed and a lot of the information is correct, like that she lives in Wanaka.


One fake ad even has her face poorly cut-and-pasted onto actress Michelle Williams' body when she won an Emmy, with the story purporting that Langbein won New Zealander of the Year.

One of the scam ads attempting to lure victims into buying Annabel Langbein's non-existent skincare products.

The ads have appeared on Facebook, Instagram, Google and reputable sites like Healthline, the New York Times and the Herald.

These sites likely all use the centralised and automated Google Ad Exchange - which runs billions of ad auctions a day - to sell ad space.

"I have nothing to do with this, it's fraud, and yet I have to date been unsuccessful in trying to get it these posts taken down."

Langbein has reported a number of the Google ads, been in contact with sites where the ads have appeared to get them taken down, and used Facebook's defamation reporting tool.

One of the scam ads attempting to lure victims into buying Annabel Langbein's non-existent skincare.

She knows numerous dodgy sites have been taken down.

But as she reports one ad, another pops up.

"I am so sick of this. My followers and supporters are being conned and losing money.

"Also, this is identity theft and is really misleading. It is also extremely damaging for my name and reputation," Langbein said.

In a response to Langbein's defamation complaint, a lawyer representing Facebook said it was "unable to proactively identify content on its platform" but would take action if it was reported to them.

"We note that you have indicated that you continue to find similar content on Facebook," the legal response said.

"As you will appreciate, there are over two billion users, including approximately six million advertisers and nine million businesses with pages on Facebook's platform."

But Langbein said this isn't good enough and Facebook and Google should be doing more.

She is now looking into what legal options she has.

"I have spent decades building trust and to have this happen and have my brand being used illegally is incredibly upsetting.

"I don't know why Facebook and Instagram can't get this scam closed down. It's paid sponsor content and therefore there must be a means to track them."

One of the scam ads attempting to lure victims into buying Annabel Langbein's non-existent skincare products.

In January in the UK, consumer champion personality Martin Lewis sued Facebook for defamation, arguing it failed to prevent or swiftly remove false advertising that both tarnished his reputation and lured victims into losing money. The case was settled and Facebook promised to donate £3 million to an anti-scam charity and launch a new scam ad reporting tool.

Last month, a Dutch court ordered Facebook to pull ads which misuse the likeness of a local celebrity to promote dodgy cryptocurrency investments.

A Facebook spokesperson said the ads were a clear violation of their policies and were swiftly removed when reported.

The company deleted and suspended offending accounts and was considering legal action in some instances. It had also built additional "celeb-bait" detection models.

"The damage and cost to our business far outweighs any ad spend or benefit as this kind of misleading content has a negative impact on people's experiences and our platform overall," the spokesperson said.

A Google spokesperson said they took violations of the ad policy very seriously and when they found ads that did so, they remove them.

Chief executive of Netsafe, Martin Cocker, said scammers using pictures of celebrities was very common and a number had been reported to them this year.

Normally, good-looking people were used for scam beauty ads, sports stars for fake health products and personalities, like John Key, who are seen to be wealthy or successful, are used in investment scams.

Cocker said if you had fallen victim to one of these scams, you should contact your bank or card provider immediately and they'll likely issue you a new card.

Unfortunately, you and your details are likely on a "sucker list" so are highly likely to be targeted again, meaning you will have to be extra cautious and sceptical for the foreseeable future.

How to avoid being scammed

• You should never follow a link in an ad.

• If you're interested in something you've seen advertised to you, research it independently away from the platform. That way you'll quickly learn whether it's legitimate.

• If it does appear to be a scam, you should report it to Netsafe and the platform you've seen it on. Both Facebook and Google have options to "report this ad".