By Jon Hood
April 5, 2010
A lawsuit brought by Florida and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accuses The Alcoholism Cure Foundation (ACF) of defrauding consumers with a bogus "permanent cure" for alcoholism, and of threatening to expose the medical records of customers who fall behind on their monthly payments.
The suit, filed in federal court in Jacksonville, says that ACF has advertised its "permanent cure" since at least 2005. According to the complaint, the company provides "individual dietary supplement regimens for consumers and...purported doctor monitoring and support," but doesn't employ anyone with "doctorates or licenses related to the treatment of alcoholism."
The company offers programs for two categories of consumers: Heavy Drinker and Very Heavy Drinker. The programs each start out at an introductory rate and then level off at around $180 per month and $270 per month, respectively. Customers must purchase the prescribed supplements separately, inflating an already hefty bill.
Once a customer has signed up for one of the programs, ACF continues to charge his credit card or PayPal account every month without notice. ACF made at least $693,000 between 2005 and 2009, according to the complaint.
The company's current web page is "under construction," but a cached version proclaims that "Today's The Day We Cure Your Alcoholism." The site promises the "best technology to end alcohol abuse permanently," and says that customers can "'enjoy a few drinks' -- without cravings." The site goes so far as to say that ACF's program represents "Medical certainty. There is no alcoholism if you replace missing molecules your brain seeks in alcohol."
According to the suit, a consumer who wants to sign up for an ACF program must complete an online assessment, choose either the "Heavy Drinker" or "Very Heavy Drinker" program, and provide payment information.
However, the complaint says that ACF's web page "fail[s] to identify adequately what terms and conditions consumers purportedly agree to by submitting their Assessment form," and that "even if consumers are aware of a Terms and Conditions page, it is indecipherable and internally inconsistent."
And customers who don't know or understand the terms and conditions pay a very heavy price. According to the suit, consumers who try to cancel their subscription are told that they must remain in the program for at least five months before ACF will release them.
Additionally, ACF "require[s] consumers to submit 'Proof of Continued Drinking' to prove that they are not cured. ...Defendants state the submission should include, among other items, notarized notes from the consumer's doctor and five friends stating that the consumer continues to drink, liquor receipts from the previous two months, and several kinds of laboratory testing."
Making matters worse, ACF plays hardball with consumers who renege on their "obligations." According to the complaint, the company threatens delinquent consumers with "litigation and the attendant 'unwanted publicity.'" ACF has taken several consumers to small claims court in Florida.
Worse, the company continues to charge consumers' credit cards or PayPal accounts, "often in amounts far exceeding the monthly subscription fee," and in some cases discloses their private medical records to the Better Business Bureau.
The suit requests unspecified damages, as well as a permanent injunction to prevent future violations of state and federal law.