As many as 1 million U.S. consumers could have been scammed out of up to $100 million with acai berry and colon cleaners with phony endorsements from Rachael Ray and Oprah Winfrey, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said. The FTC announced it has sued the Arizona company making the claims and that a U.S. District Court judge in Chicago has frozen the company's assets.
The judge ordered Central Coast Nutraceuticals Inc. of Phoenix to temporarily stop Internet sales of AcaiPure and Colopure products. FTC consumer protection bureau director, David Vladeck, said the consumers losses are related to be both the ads and deceptive billing practices.
The FTC allegations include deceptive advertising for hawking AcaiPure, an acai berry supplement, as a weight-loss product, and Colopure, a colon cleansing supplement, as an aid for preventing cancer. A hearing is scheduled for Friday and the FTC is looking to shut down the company, seize its assets and provide refunds to consumers.
The main phone number for Central Coast Nutraceuticals was playing a recorded message saying the line was "experiencing technical difficulties" and could not connect calls. An e-mail requesting comment was not immediately answered.
Vladeck says the company used fake endorsements from talk show hosts Ray and Winfrey on its ads and offered consumers free trials of the products. Consumers were asked to pay for shipping for the free trial offers, but later found out that they had been signed up for automatic charges to receive the products each month. One consumer, preschool teacher Rhonda Wooten of Paxton, Ill., says that she is owed between $200 to $500 after signing up for free trial offers of both Acai Advanced and Colopure, paying $10.90 for shipping last September. She eventually got a refund for $50.95 at the beginning of this year.
"Many still ended up on the hook for hundreds of dollars," Vladeck said at a news conference today announcing the lawsuit. The court papers filed in federal court include declarations from Rachael Ray and a representative for Oprah Winfrey, both disavowing any connection with the products and denying they gave endorsements. Winfrey has also sued 40 Internet marketers for trademark infringement.
Named in the FTC's Aug. 5 lawsuit along with Central Coast Nutraceuticals is iLife Health and Wellness LLC, Simply Naturals LLC, Fit for Life LLC, Health and Beauty Solutions LLC, Central Coast Nutraceuticals president and CEO Graham D. Gibson and manager Michael A. McKenzy -- who also is a principal for Simply Naturals and iLife.
The FTC alleges the marketers claimed that dieters could lose up to 25 pounds in a month using AcaiPure and allegedly pointed to studies to back those claims. The FTC also alleges that ads touted Colopure could help prevent colon cancer, but it was nothing more than a laxative, Vladeck says. "Our experts do warn that prolonged use of laxatives ... isn't healthy," he says.
The acai berry has been touted as a super fruit, with marketers claiming that the berry can help you lose weight, lower cholesterol and boost energy, though none of these claims has been proven. Scam warnings about miracle weight loss pills or other supplements are not new.
The practice of detoxifying the body by colon cleansing with laxatives goes back thousands of years, with the latest batch of hawking miracle cures for a host of ailments. Check out the big promises that deliver nothing.
The FTC warns consumers to be wary about any offer that promises a free trial for only the cost of shipping. Some of the common tricks used to get your money include pre-checked boxes on the online order forms. Before buying anything online know the terms and conditions of the offer and how to cancel future shipments. Check your credit and debit card statements after you sign up for a free trial offer for charges that you don't recognize. If you see any, first try the merchant to clear up the issue and if that doesn't work, notify the card issuer.
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