PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Florida Attorney General have won a big one in the case of a phony alcoholism "cure" program. 

A federal court in Florida has ordered the program’s marketers to pay more than $700,000 for having tricked consumers into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to participate in the program. 

The court's order follows its September 2011 ruling upholding the FTC's and Florida AG's charges that the defendants prescribed ineffective concoctions of dietary supplements as a supposed cure for alcoholism -- and then threatened to make public the consumers' alcoholism when they tried to cancel their memberships. 

Deceptive marketing 

The complaint, filed in March 2010, named Jacksonville, Florida-based Alcoholism Cure Corporation and its owner, Robert Douglas Krotzer.  It charged the defendants, who also did business under the names Alcoholism Cure Foundation, Enjoy A Few, and Guilt Free Drinking, with deceptively peddling their program, ultimately taking in at least $732,480 from about 450 consumers. 

Online ads referred to defendant Krotzer -- who is not a doctor -- as “Dr. Doug,” and boasted that the company’s “team of doctors” would create customized, low-cost, and permanent alcoholism cures.  The court upheld the complaint allegations, ruling that the defendants made false and unsupported claims that their program “cures alcoholism while allowing alcoholics to drink socially.”  

The defendants also deceptively claimed that the program had the “best technology to end alcohol abuse permanently,” and was “scientifically proven to cure alcoholism.”

The court also found the company and Krotzer falsely claimed that their program cost about $350 and consumers could cancel anytime, that consumers would be monitored by trained professionals and that the defendants would keep consumer information private.  

Going public 

When consumers tried to cancel their memberships, the defendants “routinely used disclosure of personal and health information as a threat to extract payment” and made “impossible demands” that consumers submit so-called “proofs of continued drinking,” including expensive lab test results and hair samples.  

The defendants also charged consumers’ financial accounts for fees they supposedly owed -- ranging from $9,000 to $20,000 -- without authorization.  After threatening to disclose consumers’ alcohol dependence, the defendants actually did so in some cases:  by telling PayPal, credit card companies and the Better Business Bureau; by filing the information publicly in Florida small claims court; and by exposing the entire database of consumer information to the debt collectors they hired to pursue the fees. 

Out of business 

The court’s final order permanently bans the defendants from marketing or selling any treatment or cure for alcoholism, drug addiction or any other human health-related problem.  It also prohibits the defendants from using trade names such as “alcoholism cure” or “permanent cure,” from unauthorized billing, and from taking any further collections actions against their victims.  

The defendants also may not misrepresent the cost or terms of any offer they make, the professional qualifications of Krotzer or any employee, or that the company is a charity.  Finally, the order requires the defendants to pay $732,480, to be used for consumer refunds, if practical.

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