The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken action against companies that sell acai berry supplements, “colon cleansers” and other products online by featuring false Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray endorsements and illegally billing customer credit cards. According to an agency press release, a U.S. district court has temporarily ordered a halt to “an Internet sales scheme that allegedly scammed consumers out of $30 million or more in 2009 alone through deceptive advertising and unfair billing practices.” The court order also imposes an asset freeze and appoints a temporary receiver over several companies “while the FTC moves forward with its case to stop the company’s bogus health claims and other deceptive and unfair conduct.”
The companies purportedly made “free” trial offers for an acai berry supplement pitched as a rapid weight-loss product and a colon cleanser said to prevent cancer. The companies purportedly claimed that they would provide full refunds to unsatisfied customers. Apparently, the “free” trial required payment of a nominal sum and then “many consumers found it all but impossible to avoid paying full price for the products, typically $39.95 to $59.95” and were “automatically enrolled in a membership program and charged for additional monthly supplies of a product.” The FTC estimates that “about a million people” fell victim to this scam involving “a product that didn’t work in the first place.” See FTC Press Release, August 16, 2010.