FTC Takes Action Against Acai Berry Weight-Loss Sites

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — As part of its ongoing crackdown on deceptive health claims, the Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint jointly with the State of Connecticut, seeking to permanently stop a Connecticut-based operation that allegedly used fake news websites to promote their products, made deceptive weight-loss claims, and told consumers they could receive free trials of acai berry and “colon cleanse” products, and only have to pay the nominal cost of shipping and handling.  The FTC alleges that many consumers  ended up paying $79.99 for the trial, and for recurring monthly shipments of products that were hard to cancel.  The defendants have allegedly taken in more than $25 million from consumers in the United States.

The parties have agreed to a court order temporarily halting the illegal conduct of Boris Mizhen, LeanSpa LLC, and two other companies Mizhen controls; continuing an asset freeze; appointing a temporary receiver; and giving the receiver, the FTC, and the State of Connecticut immediate access to the business premises.

The complaint alleges that the defendants hired affiliate marketers who used fake news websites to promote the defendants’ products.  The fake news websites used domain names that appear to be objective news or health sites, such as channel8health.com, dailyhealth6.com, and online6health.com.  The sites included stories such as “Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?” and “1 Trick of a Tiny Belly: Reporter Loses Her ‘Belly’ Using 1 Easy Tip,” and often displayed the logos of major news sources, such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.  Fake reporters on the sites claimed to have tried the defendants’ weight-loss products, such as LeanSpa, NutraSlim, and SlimFuel, and to have lost a substantial amount of weight quickly – sometimes as much as 25 pounds in four weeks without any special diet or vigorous exercise regime.  The fake news sites had links to the defendants’ own websites, where consumers were offered trial samples of two weight-loss dietary supplements:  an acai-berry product and a colon cleanse product.  The affiliate marketers earned a commission for each consumer who landed on their sites and signed up for a trial.

According to the complaint, once consumers landed at the defendants’ sites – including TryLeanSpa.com, TryNutraSlim.com, and TryQuickDetox.com – they were told that for a limited time only, in exchange for a nominal shipping and handling fee, typically $4.95 or less, they would receive trial samples of the acai berry or colon cleanse product, or both, and consumers were urged to provide their credit or debit card account information to pay the nominal fee to obtain a trial sample.  If they tried to navigate away, a pop-up message sometimes appeared stating: “Don’t miss out on this GREAT OFFER!!! Just press Cancel to remain on this page and receive an instant discounted S&H price of $1.95.”  The defendants allegedly would typically charge consumers either $79.99 for one of the products, or $158.98 for two.

The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

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