FTC Files Suit Against Dietary Supplement Marketer; Enters Two Partial Settlements with Marketers
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The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop a dietary supplement marketer from making misleading claims that its product can help treat and even cure people who are addicted to opiates, including prescription pain medications and illegal drugs such as heroin.
Also today, the FTC announced two partial settlements against marketers accused of making unsupported claims for weight-loss supplements. The cases are part of a law enforcement sweep targeting illegal dietary supplement marketing by the FTC, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Food and Drug Administration, Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
“People looking for a dietary supplement to improve their health have to wade through a swamp of misleading ads,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Be skeptical of ads for supplements that claim to cure diseases, reverse the signs of aging, or cause weight loss without diet or exercise.”
A complete list of dietary supplement-related FTC actions taken over the past year can be found here, and includes cases against the sellers of products ranging from those falsely claiming to help users lose weight to those suggesting they can reverse gray hair, cure childhood speech disorders and other ailments, and improve cognitive function and memory.
According to the FTC’s complaint against Sunrise Nutraceuticals, LLC announced today, the company, based in Boca Raton, Florida, deceptively claims that its dietary supplement Elimidrol, a “proprietary blend” of herbs and other compounds, alleviates opiate withdrawal symptoms and increases a user’s likelihood of overcoming opiate addiction.
Sunrise allegedly ran advertising on its website targeting opiate-dependent consumers with claims that it is the “#1 opiate withdrawal supplement,” and that it is the only opiate withdrawal product “guaranteed to work.” Elimidrol purportedly is non-addictive, non-habit forming, and will help users “permanently overcome withdrawal -- the first time.” It also claims a high-success rate among users, and that “the effects can be felt from the first dose.”
In addition, Sunrise promotes Elimidrol with testimonials from opiate-dependent customers. For example, one testimonial states, “I was introduced to Elimidrol and it saved my life. This is not an exaggeration, it SAVED my life.” The testimonialist goes on to say that she “noticed within 30 minutes of the first dose that I was actually feeling pretty comfortable and I had a new sense of ‘clarity’ in me.”
The FTC’s complaint alleges, however, that Sunrise’s ads for Elimidrol are deceptive because they are false or unsubstantiated. An 8-ounce bottle of Elimidrol costs $75. In filing the complaint, the FTC is seeking a court order providing redress and preventing the company from making such claims unless they can be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
In May 2014, the FTC brought an action against Health Nutrition Products and related defendants. In its amended complaint, the FTC charged Crystal Ewing, five other individuals, and five companies with making false and misleading health and efficacy claims in direct mail ads and on a website owned by Ewing. In ads for W8-B-Gone, CITRI-SLIM 4, and Quick & Easy diet pills, the defendants featured bogus weight-loss experts. Citing fake scientific studies, the defendants also deceptively claimed to have clinical proof that consumers would experience a “RAPID FAT meltdown diet program” that lets them shed five pounds in four days with one pill, or up to 20 pounds in 16 days with four pills.
The stipulated court orders announced today will settle the FTC’s charges against three defendants involved in the scheme. The order against repeat offender Crystal Ewing and her company Classic Productions, LLC requires them to admit liability in the case, bans them from selling weight-loss programs, products, and services, and imposes a non-suspended judgment of $2.7 million. The order against Ricki Black, a former officer and director of non-settling defendant Global Access Management Systems, Inc., prohibits the deceptive conduct alleged in the complaint, contains a suspended judgment of $1.6 million, and requires her to provide the FTC with proceeds from the sale of her sports car and fine jewelry.
The Commission vote approving the stipulated court orders was 4-0. They were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. Litigation against the remaining defendants continues.
According to the FTC’s complaint in an action brought in May 2014, Florida-based NPB Advertising, Inc. and others capitalized on the green coffee bean diet fad by using false weight-loss claims and fake news websites to market a dietary supplement called Pure Green Coffee. The fad began when The Dr. Oz Show, a syndicated television program, touted green coffee bean extract as a potent weight-loss treatment that supposedly burns fat. Weeks after the show, the defendants launched Pure Green Coffee, which they promoted through Internet ads and on their own website, making allegedly misleading, deceptive, and unsupported claims about its ability to help consumers lose weight.
The stipulated court order announced today settles the FTC’s charges against several companies and individuals involved in the Pure Green Coffee scheme, including Nationwide Ventures, LLC; NPB Advertising, Inc.; JMD Advertising, Inc.; Olympic Advertising, Inc.; Sermo Group, LLC; Signature Group, LLC; Paul Pascual; Bryan Walsh; and relief defendant CPW Funding, LLC. The proposed order bars the defendants from the deceptive acts and practices described in the complaint and imposes a $30 million judgment that will be suspended upon the sale of certain assets, payment of $160,800, and the collection and turnover of an additional $155,760 that was lent to a third party.
The Commission vote approving the stipulated court order was 4-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division. Litigation against the remaining defendants continues.
Warning Letters. The FTC today also sent warning letters to 20 companies that advertise and sell dietary supplements online for weight loss, warning them that Commission staff has reviewed their weight-loss claims and that they could be misleading. The letters describe the type of scientific evidence needed before making weight-loss claims and also raise concerns over the websites’ use of consumer testimonials.
The letters detail potential penalties for violating the FTC Act, provide links to relevant business education information, and request that the companies review the claims on their sites, revise them if necessary, and notify the agency of the specific actions they have taken to change the ad claims. At this time, the FTC is not naming the companies that received the letters.
Consumer and Business Education. The FTC has information on its website to help consumers make informed decisions about dietary supplements and health claims made in advertisements and to keep businesses on the right side of the law. Dietary Supplements contains links to information on what dietary supplements are, whether they are safe, and how to report a potential problem to the Commission. Health Claims contains links for business that sell dietary supplements and a range of other products describing how to ensure their advertising is not deceptive or misleading.
The FTC is a member of the National Prevention Council, which provides coordination and leadership at the federal level regarding prevention, wellness, and health promotion practices. These matters advance the National Prevention Strategy’s goal of increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook (link is external), follow us on Twitter (link is external), and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
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