According the the FTC’s complaint, the marketers, identified as Colby Fox and Christopher Reinhold, headed a scheme in which e-mail accounts were hacked and messages sent to consumers that appeared to come from friends and family. The messages directed consumers to the fake news sites that deceptively promoted weight loss products such as Original Pure Forskolin and Original White Kidney Bean.
The e-mails linked to fake news websites were designed to appear as if an independent consumer reporter, rather than a paid advertiser, had reviewed and endorsed the product. The sites also included testimonials from consumers who purportedly had benefited from the weight-loss products. The false testimonials promised weight loss like “4 lbs/week of belly fat” and “41.7 lbs in 2.5 months.” According to the FTC’s complaint, these weight-loss claims are false and lack scientific support.
FTC said the sites also falsely represented that the products for sale had been featured or endorsed by Oprah Winfrey or the hosts of the television show “The Doctors”. These fake news websites then linked to other sites where consumers could purchase the defendants’ weight-loss products.
FTC said the defendants had set up an e-mail affiliate marketing scheme in which they paid their affiliate marketers a commission whenever consumers clicked through from a fake news website to one of the defendants’ sites and bought their supplements.
Legitimate ingredients; illegitimate claims
Both forskolin and white kidney bean extract are available in the market in ingredient form from reputable suppliers and both have studies that could be used to back reasonable claims. Without commenting on the provenance of the products cited, the FTC complaint said the marketers made claims on the products that were not supported by science, including the false testimonials with specific pound totals for weight lost. NutraIngredients-USA was unable to independently assess the quality of the products as they can only be accessed through one of the affiliate e-mails. In the past experts have told NutraIngredients-USA that making weight loss claims linking specific pounds lost to specific time frames, without studies backing those specific targets, is a sure-fire way to get unwanted attention from the commission.
FTC also said the defendants violated the CAN-SPAM Act, which has been in place since 2004, which regulates the sending of commercial e-mails and charges FTC with regulating the process. FTC is seeking an immediate temporary injunction of the defendants’ supplement marketing businesses, which operated under the names Tachht, Inc. and Teqqi, LLC.
This is not the first time FTC has taken action against weight loss product marketers using the fake news angle. The most prominent example came in 2010, when the commission shut down websites hawking acai-based weight loss products.