If you surf the Web, you've probably encountered the ubiquitous fake-news websites that promote "Acai Berry" diet products, posing as news organizations with titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts” or even "Consumer Reports."
One familiar headline: "Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?" The sub-headline says: “As part of a new series: ‘Diet Trends: A look at America’s Top Diets’ we examine consumer tips for dieting during a recession.”
If you clicked and looked closely, you might have figured out that the sites were fake - just advertising videos touting a nonprescription dietary supplement. And that's the real scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
“Almost everything about these sites is fake,” David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement announcing lawsuits against 10 companies or individuals accused of operating such sites. “The weight loss results, the so-called investigations, the reporters, the consumer testimonials, and the attempt to portray an objective, journalistic endeavor.”
The FTC, with a parallel action by the Illinois Attorney General's Office, says it is seeking "to permanently bar the allegedly deceptive claims, and to require the companies to provide money for refunds to consumers who purchased the supplements and other products." It says the defendants "make false and unsupported claims that acai berry supplements will cause rapid and substantial weight loss," and "fail to disclose their financial relationships to the merchants selling the products."
In particular, it says the 10 operations deceptively represent that:
- Their websites are objective news reports;
- Independent tests demonstrate the effectiveness of the product, and
- Comments following the “articles” on their websites reflect the views of independent consumers
Click here for links to the lawsuits and documents. Click here to see the FTC's new "This Just In" consumer alert on the websites. Want to watch a video on the scam risks of "free trial offers"? Click here.
This isn't the first time the FTC has attempted to crack down on acai berry pitches, which it says have resulted in numerous complaints from consumers who say they have wasted $70 to $100 on the products.