The Federal Trade Commission took action against a company selling weight loss products like Premium Green Coffee and Premium White Kidney Bean Extract that allegedly deceived consumers with bogus claims and unauthorized celebrity endorsements.
Since 2012, California-based Sale Slash and related individuals sent spam e-mails to consumers regarding diet pills that claimed to result in dramatic weight loss, the FTC said. Purported endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, who had no relationship with the company or its products, accompanied the claims, which were also repeated in banner ads and fake news sites.
The e-mails were sent by affiliate marketers using stolen e-mail accounts so the messages appeared to be from a friend or family member, the agency said, but included no information on how to opt out of future messages.
Claims for the weight loss supplements in the e-mail messages typically featured brief messages like “Breaking news…” or “Hi! Oprah says it’s excellent” with hyperlinks. The links in the e-mails led to fake news sites with headlines like “Insider Report: Oprah and Other Celebrities Lose 4lbs/Week of Belly Fat With This Secret Our Readers Can Try Now!” that were intended to trick consumers into thinking they were an independent source of information and not a paid advertisement.
In banner ads, the defendants marketed the Pure Garcinia Cambogia and Pure Caralluma Fimbriata Extract with claims like “1 Tip for a tiny belly,” “Cut down on a bit of your belly every day following this 1 old weird tip,” and “Garcinia Cambogia Exposed—Miracle Diet or Scam?” To spur consumers to action, the ads cautioned, “Due to recently being featured on TV, we cannot guarantee supply.”
In response to the FTC’s complaint alleging the defendants violated both the Federal Trade Commission Act and the CAN-SPAM Act, a federal court judge in California enjoined further business operations and froze the defendants’ assets. The agency is seeking to recover funds from the defendants to provide refunds to duped consumers.
To read the complaint and the temporary restraining order in FTC v. Sale Slash, click here.
Why it matters: “Sale Slash is a fraud trifecta,” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement about the case. “The company made outlandish weight-loss claims for its diet pills using fake news sites, phony celebrity endorsements, and millions of unwanted spam emails.” The case is by no means the first the agency has brought against companies touting weight loss products via phony news sites or relying on false celebrity endorsements—two surefire ways to arouse the FTC’s attention.