FTC takes steps to halt international bogus hoodia operation

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Federal trade commission, Marketing

The Federal Trade Commission has put a stop to an international
spamming operation that sold a product masquerading as hoodia
gordonii.

Via a request put in to a district court judge, the agency has told the network to stop delivering illegal spam email messages. FTC says the bogus hoodia weight-loss products, as well as human growth hormone anti-aging products the group sold, do not work. According to the agency, this is the first measure it has brought about under the US Safe Web Act, concerning the sharing of information with foreign partners. The announcement of this law enforcement action was made yesterday at an international meeting of government authorities and private industry about online threats. The FTC targeted this international enterprise, which spans at least the US, Canada and Australia, for its alleged use of spam to draw consumers to web sites selling two kinds of pills. The products masquerading as hoodia are sold under the names Hoodialife and Hoodiaplus, while the so-called 'natural human growth hormone enhancer' was sold under the names HGHlife and HGHplus for reversing the aging process. The agency says its database received over 175,000 spam messages directing it to the marketing of these products and originating from the international operation. Among FTC's complaints regarding the network's allegedly false and unsubstantiated claims are that the "hoodia" products would cause rapid and substantial weight loss - including up to 25 pounds per month, or permanent weight loss. The FTC also alleges the operation violated a law relating to pornography and marketing, because it sent commercial emails with false "from" addresses and deceptive subject lines. The US Safe Web Act was passed by Congress last year to counter Internet marketing and fraud practices that are harmful to consumers. The agency said these types of operations are increasingly global in nature - such as is the case with the hoodia marketer in question - and as such FTC needs to cooperate with numerous foreign counterparts if it wants to put a stop to infringers. FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras announced the complaint and temporary restraining order yesterday in Arlington, Virginia during a keynote address at the third joint workshop between the London Action Plan (LAP) and the EU's Contact Network of Spam Authorities (CNSA). This is the first LAP-CNSA meeting held in the United States. Hoodia has been particularly vulnerable to adulteration due to the fact it is a rare and thus expensive botanical. The export of genuine South African hoodia​ is strictly controlled, and it comes accompanied with paperwork certifying its provenance. The plant grows wild in the area stretching from the Ceres-Karoo, through the Northern Cape, to the Kalahari, and has been consumed by bushmen for thousands of years to suppress appetite on hunting trips. Research into its appetite suppressing properties and the isolation of the active ingredient P57, (which has been patented and is under license to Unilever) has spawned immense interest in the plant in the West. As appetite management gains credence as an approach to weight management, demand has exceeded supply.

Related topics: Regulation, Polyphenols, Weight management

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