The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said today it's cracking down on 10 operations that allegedly used fake news websites to market acai berry weight-loss products.
The agency wants to shut down the sites posing as legitimate news sites and have titles like "News 6 News Alerts" and often feature logos of major media outlets including ABC, Fox News and CNN.
"They are not affiliated with the news organizations," said Charles Harwood, FTC's deputy director, FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. He said the sites carry the same information -- that a featured reported lost 25 pounds in four weeks without diet or exercise. "We allege this is pure fabrication."
The websites do direct consumers to companies selling the acai berry weight-loss supplements. Acai berry supplements are derived from acai palm trees native to Central and South America and are often marketed to consumers as weight-loss aides.
In a series of lawsuits filed in federal courts across the nation, the FTC alleges the defendants made false and unsupported claims that acai berry supplements cause rapid and substantial weight loss; failed to disclose their financial relationships to the merchants; and were deceptive in presenting websites as objective news reports, independent tests and comments on the sites. The Illinois Attorney General's office also filed a connected lawsuit.
The FTC lists the defendants in the cases. Requests for comment from several defendants were not immediately returned.
The FTC said the claims made by the sites were similar to those made by acai berry marketer Central Coast Nutraceuticals last year that were boosted by phony endorsements by Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray. The feds estimate as many as 1 million consumers were taken in by that scam.
While acai berries do have antioxidant properties, MedilinePlus of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said there is insufficient evidence to say the supplements are effective. The acai supplements are used for weight loss and to treat arthritis, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction and improving general health.
The FTC says a good rule of thumb for consumers to follow is if the an advertisement claims the product gives fast and easy results, think twice before buying the product.
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