Parents and grandparents mesmerized by advertising claiming babies could be taught to read shelled out $200 or more for "Your Baby Can Read," a supposed training kit that they hoped would magically transform their pre-verbal infants into bookworms.
One 30-minute television infomercial featured a home video of a two-year-old girl who used the program and is purportedly reading a page from the children’s book Charlotte’s Web. The girl’s mother then appears, saying that when her daughter was three years old, “She read her first Harry Potter book and she fell in love with it.”
But unlike most fairy tales, this one has an unhappy ending. After all, babies can't read, a fact cited by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as it charged the program's promoters with false advertising. Having read the writing on the wall, two of the three defendants named in the FTC's complaint have agreed to settle the FTC's charges.
The settlement prohibits the Carlsbad, California-based defendants from further use of the term “Your Baby Can Read.” It also imposes a $185 million judgment, which equals the company’s gross sales since January 2008, although the company will only have to pay $500,000, which is all the money it says it has.
Besides Your Baby Can Read LLC, the complaint charges company principal and product creator Robert Titzer, Ph.D, with making deceptive expert endorsements. Your Baby Can and Titzer represented that the program taught children as young as nine months old to read; gave children an early start on academic learning, making them more successful in life than those who didn’t use it; and that scientific studies proved these claims, according to the complaint.
In addition to Titzer and Your Baby Can, the complaint names as a defendant Hugh Penton, Jr., who served as president and chief executive officer of the company until March 2010. Penton and Your Baby Can have agreed to settle the FTC’s charges. The agency is initiating litigation against Titzer in federal court.
Beyond the question of how literate your average baby can become, many consumers who ordered the Your Baby Can Read program complained about disputed charges and delivery problems, as ConsumerAffairs reported in September 2010.
Andrita Andreas ordered the product but did not receive her entire order. Jose Nio said he was charged the full $260 for attempting to order the trial period.
More recent complaints sound like subsequent chapters in the same book.
Take Ashley of Palm Springs, FL, who posted a review on July 5, 2011: "I ordered Your Baby Can Read in April 2011. I saw absolutely no improvement from my daughter after two months. Nothing at all.
"I called to complain and proceeded to tell the representative that I felt I was scammed. He told me the 30-day money back guarantee had expired and there was nothing they would do. No refund nor credit. I was simply stuck with my purchase. This program is a complete scam/fraud and rips people off."
According to the complaint, the defendants sold the Your Baby Can Read! program to parents and grandparents of children aged three months to five years since at least January 2008, charging about $200 for each kit and taking in more than $185 million, directly via a toll-free number and their own websites.
The defendants marketed the program on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, and television infomercials and ads on network and cable stations such as Lifetime, Discovery Kids, Disney DX, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon. It also was available for purchase online at Amazon.com and BabiesRUs.com, as well as, at retail stores nationwide, including Wal-Mart, Kmart, Walgreens, Buy Buy Baby, Toys “R” Us, and BJ's Wholesale Club.