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Acai diet pill promoters settle over alleged fake news stories

January 25, 2012|By Matt Stevens
  • Marketers of acai berry weight-loss pills used fake news stories to attract customers, according to complaints by the Federal Trade Commission.
Marketers of acai berry weight-loss pills used fake news stories to attract… (www.herbalextractsplus.com )

Online promoters of swift weight loss from acai berry diet pills have agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

The agency had charged that the six promoters used fake news stories to dupe customers into purchasing the pills and other weight-loss products that failed to live up to marketing claims.

The stories that appeared on their websites used provocative headlines, such as “Health Reporter Discovers the Shocking Truth,” the FTC said. The promotions included bogus claims, the agency said, and falsely stated that the effectiveness of the treatments had been discussed on major news outlets.

Also, the promotions included a fake first-hand account from a supposed reporter who claimed to have lost 25 pounds in four weeks, the agency said.

“All this was pure fabrication,” said Steve Wernikoff, an FTC attorney in Chicago. “The weight-loss results on the sites were impossible to achieve.” 

The defendants in the case were Thou Lee and Zachary Graham of Minnesota, Ricardo Jose Labra of Michigan, Tanner Vaughn of Washington state, Charles Dunlevy of Pennsylvania and Michael Volozin of New York.

None admitted guilt as part of the settlement. Their attorneys could not be reached Wednesday afternoon for comment.

Although the judgments in the settlement totaled nearly $4 million, the agency said it was collecting only about $500,000 from the defendants. “The money amounts to most of their assets,” the FTC said in a statement.

The settlement also required the promoters make clear when their commercial messages are advertisements. It also barred them from making deceptive claims about health-related products.

The FTC alleged that consumers paid between $70 and $100 for a supply of the acai pills.

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