Six online marketers agreed to settlements with the Federal Trade Commission that will permanently halt their allegedly deceptive practice of using fake news websites to market acai berry supplements and other weight-loss products.
As part of its ongoing crackdown on bogus health claims, the proposed settlements will require that the six operations make clear when their commercial messages are advertisements rather than objective journalism, and will bar the defendants from further deceptive claims about health-related products such as the acai berry weight-loss supplements and colon cleansers that they marketed.
The defendants also are required to disclose any material connections they have with merchants, and will be barred from making deceptive claims about other products, such as the work-at-home schemes or penny auctions that most of them promoted. The settlements also require that these defendants collectively pay roughly $500,000 to the Commission because their advertisements violated federal law. This money amounts to most of their assets.
At the request of the FTC, federal courts temporarily halted these operations and four others. In its sweep last year against marketers who allegedly used fake news sites to promote weight-loss products, the FTC alleged that their websites were designed to falsely appear as if they were part of legitimate news organizations, but were actually nothing more than advertisements deceptively enticing consumers to buy the featured acai berry weight-loss products from online merchants. With titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News,” the sites often falsely represented that the reports they carried had been seen on major media outlets such as ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports. Investigative-sounding headlines presented stories that purported to document a reporter’s first-hand experience with acai berry supplements – typically claiming to have lost 25 pounds in four weeks, according to the FTC complaints.