The Federal Trade Commission has launched a major crackdown on weight loss products heavily advertised on radio and television. Calling its effort "Operation Big Fat Lie," the agency initially targeted six companies it said were making false weight-loss claims in national advertisements.
The FTC said it intends to stop deceptive advertising and provide refunds to consumers harmed by unscrupulous weight-loss advertisers. At the same time it warned media outlets not to carry advertisements containing bogus weight-loss claims and to educate consumers to be on their guard against companies promising miraculous weight loss without diet or exercise.
Companies named in the latest actions are:
• CHK Trading Co.
• Natural Products
• New England Diet Center
• AVS Marketing
Complaints in each of the six cases allege that defendants used at least one of the seven bogus weight-loss claims that are part of the FTC's "Red Flag" education campaign announced in December 2003. That ongoing Red Flag campaign provides guidance to assist media outlets in voluntarily screening out weight-loss ads that contain claims that are too good to be true.
"False and misleading advertisements are about as credible as a note from the Tooth Fairy," said Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. "As part of our 'no tolerance' policy, we are announcing six new cases against advertisers using bogus weight loss claims. By also working with media outlets to reject false ads and educating consumers to make informed choices, the FTC hopes to keep this national obesity epidemic from getting worse."
The cases challenge ads containing false Red Flag claims for a variety of products, including pills, powders, green tea, topical gels, and diet patches. The FTC alleges in each case that the weight-loss claims are false and that the defendants did not have adequate substantiation for the claims they made.
The challenged ads ran in nationally-known publications such as: Cosmopolitan; Woman's Own; Complete Woman; USA Weekend; Dallas Morning News; San Francisco Chronicle; Cleveland Plain Dealer; Albuquerque Journal; and in Spanish-language publications, such as TeleRevista Magazine. In each of these cases, the Commission is seeking to stop the bogus ads and to secure redress for consumers.
In addition to the cases announced today, the Commission has filed lawsuits against seven other companies since April 2004 for making similarly false Red Flag weight-loss claims.
On November 4, 2004, the Commission filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, District of Maine, against Selfworx.com LLC, Iworx LLC, and Jeffrey V. Kral. The Scarborough, Maine-based defendants advertised two weight-loss products: geloothin - a topical gel, and Ultra LipoLean - a dietary supplement tablet described as a "fat blocker."
The complaint alleges that the defendants make false and unsubstantiated claims that geloothin, when rubbed into the skin: (1) causes substantial weight loss, including as much as 21 pounds in six weeks; (2) dissolves fat deposits in days; and (3) dissolves and removes cellulite from the body. The complaint further alleges that defendants falsely claim that clinical studies demonstrate that geloothin will reduce fat and cellulite deposits on contact.
On November 8, 2004, the FTC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, against Femina, Inc., based in Pembroke Pines, Florida, and its owner, Husnain Mirza, challenging ads for three products - "1-2-3 Reduce Fat" (a three-part kit), "Siluette Patch" (a transdermal patch made from pure seaweed), and "Fat Seltzer Reduce" (a dietary supplement). The 1-2-3 Reduce Fat kit includes Xena RX, a diet pill; Reduce Gel Magic, a gel to put on the body; and a plaster corset to wrap around the body. The Xena RX pill purportedly contains green tea extract, and the Magic gel purportedly contains aloe vera and sea algae. The defendants primarily use Spanish-language ads.
The complaint alleges that the defendants make false and unsubstantiated claims: (1) that 1-2-3 Reduce Fat causes weight loss by blocking and eliminating fat; (2) that the green tea extract blocks up to 40 percent of the absorption of fat; and (3) that the aloe vera and seaweed gel eliminates inches of fat.
On November 4, 2004, the FTC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, against two companies - CHK Trading Co., Inc., based in New Jersey, and CHK Trading Corp., based in New York City. The Commission alleged that the corporate defendants and their principal, Chong Kim, market and sell "Hanmeilin Cellulite Cream," a topical cream which contains Chinese herbs and other all-natural ingredients. Users are told to apply the cream on the buttocks, stomach, and thighs and massage until the cream is completely absorbed. The defendants advertise their product to Spanish-speaking consumers via national advertisements in TeleRevista magazine, as well as to English-speaking and Korean-speaking consumers via their Web sites.
The complaint alleges that the defendants make false and unsubstantiated claims that rubbing Hanmeilin Cellulite Cream into the body: (1) causes permanent weight loss; (2) causes substantial weight loss, including as much as 10 to 95 pounds; and (3) eliminates fat and cellulite.
On November 3, 2004, the FTC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, against Natural Products, LLC; All Natural 4 U, LLC; and Ana M. Solkamans. The Tustin, California-based defendants sell a dietary supplement called "Bio Trim," "Body-Trim/Bio-Trim" or "Body-Trim" in capsule and powder form. Users are told to take two capsules with eight ounces of water one half-hour before their two biggest meals, or, if using the powder, users are told to take one half-teaspoon of the powder mix in eight ounces of cold juice 15 minutes before two meals.
The complaint alleges that the defendants make false and unsubstantiated claims that Bio Trim: (1) causes users to lose substantial weight, while eating unlimited amounts of food; (2) causes substantial weight loss by blocking the absorption of fat or calories; (3) works for all overweight users; and (4) is clinically proven to cause rapid and substantial weight loss without reducing calories.
On November 4, 2004, the Commission filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut, against Bronson Partners, LLC, (doing business as New England Diet Center and Bronson Day Spa), and Martin Howard. The defendants, based in Westport, Connecticut, sold Chinese Diet Tea and the Bio-Slim Patch - purported weight loss products. Users of the Chinese Diet Tea are told to drink one cup of tea after each meal to neutralize the absorption of fattening foods.
The complaint alleges that the defendants make false and unsubstantiated claims that Chinese Diet Tea: (1) causes rapid and substantial weight loss without the need to diet or exercise; (2) enables users to lose as much as six pounds per week over multiple weeks and months without the need to diet or exercise; (3) enables users to lose substantial weight while enjoying their favorite foods; (4) blocks the absorption of fat and calories; and (5) causes substantial weight loss for all users. The complaint further alleges that defendants falsely claim that Chinese Diet Tea is clinically proven to cause rapid and substantial weight loss without exercising or dieting.
On October 27, 2004, the FTC filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, against AVS Marketing, Inc., and William R. Heid. The defendants, based in Thomson, Illinois, sell "Himalayan Diet Breakthrough," a dietary supplement containing Nepalese Mineral Pitch - "a paste-like material" that "oozes out of the cliff face cracks in the summer season" in the Himalayas. Users are directed to take one tablet with water before lunch, dinner and bedtime.
The complaint alleges that the defendants make false and unsubstantiated claims that Himalayan Diet Breakthrough: (1) causes rapid and substantial weight loss, including as much as 37 pounds in 8 weeks, without the need to reduce caloric intake or increase exercise; (2) causes users to lose substantial weight, including as much as 37 pounds in 8 weeks, while still consuming unlimited amounts of food; (3) causes substantial weight loss, including as much as 37 pounds in 8 weeks, by preventing the formation of body fat; (4) causes substantial weight loss for all users; and (5) enables users to lose safely as much as 37 pounds in 8 weeks.
Feds Target Bogus Weight Loss Claims...