Fact Check

Did Alex Trebek's Net Worth Leave Family 'in Tears'?

The "Jeopardy" game show host's death was used in what's referred to as advertising network "arbitrage."

Published Nov. 18, 2020

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 30:  TV personality Alex Trebek attends the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation at the Official Residence of Canada on June 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images) (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
Image courtesy of Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
After Alex Trebek died of advanced pancreatic cancer, his "net worth left his family in tears."

Alex Trebek's net worth became the subject of strange online advertisements in the weeks following his death. The husband, father, and "Jeopardy" game show host died on Nov. 8, 2020, following a battle with advanced pancreatic cancer.

The ad in question read: "Alex Trebek's Net Worth Left His Family In Tears." This was false.

Alex Trebek's net worth did not leave his family in tears despite the claims of misleading advertisements.
Misleading, baseless, and false.

The ads were sponsored by LifeExact, The Financial Mag, Travel Patriot, and perhaps others, and were routed through Zemanta, which is owned by Outbrain. Crunchbase defined Outbrain as "a content discovery platform providing publishers a service for recommended links to increase traffic and generate revenue." Outbrain (via Zemanta) provided the technology that allowed the Trebek ads to appear, while LifeExact, The Financial Mag, and Travel Patriot hosted the landing pages. The landing pages featured an image slideshow, with one celebrity name and net worth figure per page. The slideshow story was headlined as: "52 Celebrities & Their Huge Net Worth – Chadwick Boseman's Net Worth Left Us in Disbelief."

The "net worth left family in tears" advertising lure has also been used by advertising networks exploiting the names of Kenny Rogers, Sean Connery, and Pat Sajak. However, Sajak is still alive, and as of this writing is on the first page of the "52 Celebrities" slideshow.

While the headline claimed the story was about 52 celebrities, including Chadwick Boseman, who died on Aug. 28, 2020, Boseman did not show up until after 140 clicks, on slide 140. Trebek appeared after 141 clicks, on slide 141. His page was the end of the slideshow. Trebek's page did not appear to acknowledge his cancer or passing. The page, which claimed his net worth was $50 million, was likely created in the past, and may have been moved along with Boseman's page to the end of the 141-page slideshow after their deaths.

The one-item-per-click slideshow model is known in the online advertising world as "arbitrage." On the business and technology blog Margins, run by Ranjan Roy and Can Duruk, Roy defined arbitrage as "leveraging an inefficient set of systems to make a riskless profit, usually by buying and selling the same asset." He also called it "the mythical free lunch that economics tells us does not exist."

In arbitrage, the advertising network's goal is to make more money on the ads displayed to readers who click through the slideshow than it costs to advertise the false "net worth left his family in tears" claim that lured them to it.

As the family grieved Trebek's passing, on Nov. 11, his wife, Jean, shared a heartfelt message with a photograph from their wedding day. She posted to Instagram:

My family and I sincerely thank you all for your compassionate messages and generosity. Your expressions have truly touched our hearts. Thank you so very, very much.

Many Blessings to all,
Jean Trebek

In sum, the ads claiming that Alex Trebek's net worth "left his family in tears" were misleading and false.

Snopes debunks a wide range of content, and online advertisements are no exception. Misleading ads often lead to obscure websites that host lengthy slideshow articles with lots of pages. It's called advertising "arbitrage." The advertiser's goal is to make more money on ads displayed on the slideshow's pages than it cost to show the initial ad that lured them to it. Feel free to submit ads to us, and be sure to include a screenshot of the ad and the link to where the ad leads.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.

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