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FTC ups the ante in crackdown vs bogus acai weight loss claims

By Elaine Watson , 05-Dec-2011
Last updated the 05-Dec-2011 at 16:26 GMT

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) crackdown against firms making bogus weight loss claims about açai supplements has stepped up a gear.

The watchdog, which recently filed 10 lawsuits against firms allegedly hiring third parties to create ‘fake’ news sites promoting their acai diet pills, has just secured a court order freezing the assets of a Connecticut-based operation allegedly engaged in a similar enterprise.

The move follows a complaint – filed jointly with the State of Connecticut in early November – against Boris Mizhen and three companies he controls: Leanspa, LLC, Nutraslim, LLC and Nutraslim UK Ltd – alleging they had misled consumers by hiring affiliate marketers to create fake news websites to promote their products.

Acai: Antioxidant powerhouse? Yes. Miracle weight loss pill? No…

While a growing body of clinical evidence suggests free-radical-scavenging acai berries can deliver exciting cardiovascular and other benefits, they do not help you to lose weight, claim experts.

However, millions of consumers have been lured onto websites selling acai diet pills via ‘fake news websites’ purporting to be from reputable news organizations from CNN to ABC, claims the FTC.

Lose 25lbs without changing your diet and lifestyle…???

The ‘news’ sites typically feature skeptical reporters that are subsequently wowed by the miracle weight loss effects of acai, with many claiming to have lost 25lbs in a month without otherwise altering their diet or lifestyle, a claim that is utterly preposterous, according to the FTC.

“Fake reporters claimed to have tried the defendants' weight-loss products, such as LeanSpa, NutraSlim, and SlimFuel, and to have lost a substantial amount of weight quickly… without any special diet or vigorous exercise regime.”

The defendants told consumers they could receive free trials of acai berry and colon cleanse products, and would only be charged for shipping and handling, claimed the FTC.

However, many shoppers ended up paying $79.99 for the ‘free’ trial, and for recurring monthly shipments of products that they couldn’t easily cancel, the FTC alleges.

The parties in the Connecticut case have agreed to a court order temporarily halting the illegal conduct of Boris Mizhen and above companies; continuing an asset freeze; appointing a temporary receiver; and giving the receiver, the FTC, and the State of Connecticut immediate access to the business premises.

Researcher: Weight loss issue distracts attention from genuinely exciting research on an ‘extraordinary antioxidant’

Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA earlier this year, AIBMR Life Sciences chief executive Dr Alex Schauss - an expert on the science behind acai – said it was “about time” the FTC cracked down on firms making claims about acai and weight loss.

He added: “It’s incredibly frustrating and really quite intolerable that they are making these fraudulent claims about losing weight when there is such strong science behind acai’s genuine benefits. It’s distracting attention from the really exciting research on this extraordinary antioxidant.”

Recent research suggested a wide range of benefits, from an ability to reduce atherosclerotic lesions in arteries and increase dexterity and reduce pain amongst older people to effects on the expression of genes that protect against oxidative stress, he said.

Click here to read more details about the case.

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