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Posted November 7, 2005
FTC Stops Bogus Ads for "Bio Trim" and Other Weight-loss Products
In a complaint filed in November 2004, the FTC alleged that the defendants made false and unsubstantiated claims in advertising on their Web sites and in magazines and newspapers around the country. They claimed, for example, that Bio Trim “guarantee[d] rapid weight loss” and its users could “eat all [they] want and still lose weight (pill does all the work).”
"If you see an ad for a weight-loss product making fantastic claims, keep your money in your pocket," said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "It's just that – a fantasy. The claims made for Bio Trim were simply not possible. There is no pill that lets you eat all you want and still lose weight."
The Commission’s complaint alleged that the defendants’ sales pitches were false, unsubstantiated, and in violation of the FTC Act. Under the terms of the stipulated order settling the Commission’s charges, the defendants can no longer claim that any weight-loss product: 1) causes users to lose substantial weight while eating unlimited amounts of food, 2) causes substantial weight loss by blocking the absorption of fat or calories, or 3) works for all overweight users.
The order also prohibits the defendants from making any claims that any health-related service or program, weight-loss product, dietary supplement, food, drug or device causes weight loss, or about their health benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects, unless, at the time a claim is made, the defendants have competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the truth of the claim. They are also prohibited from profiting from, or disclosing, personal information about their customers or prospective customers in connection with commerce in weight-loss products.
A judgment of more than $2.1 million, representing the amount of consumer injury, will be suspended due to defendants’ inability to pay. The judgment will be imposed if they are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.
The stipulated final order stopping the defendants’ allegedly illegal conduct was a result of “Operation Big Fat Lie,” the Commission’s November 2004, multi-agency crackdown on false weight-loss advertising. The Commission vote approving the consent agreement was 4-0. The FTC filed the proposed stipulated final order in the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, on October 28, 2005. The order was signed and filed on November 2, 2005 by District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler.
“Operation Big Fat Lie” identified “Seven Red Flag Bogus Weight-Loss Claims” that the FTC has advised publications and broadcasters to avoid. These “red flags” include the following: a claim is too good to be true if it says the product will 1) cause weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise; 2) cause substantial weight loss no matter what or how much you eat; 3) cause permanent weight loss (even when you stop using the product); 4) block the absorption of fat or calories to enable you to lose substantial weight; 5) safely enable you to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks; 6) cause substantial weight loss for all users; or 7) cause substantial weight loss by wearing it on the body or rubbing it into the skin.
Challenged ads in the "Operation Big Fat Lie" sweep ran in nationally-known publications. For example, ads for defendants' products ran in national magazines, including Woman's Own magazine. The Red Flag Reference Guide for Media on Bogus Weight Loss Claim Detection is available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/redflag.pdf to assist media in detecting false weight-loss claims. The FTC also uses "teaser" websites such as http://wemarket4u.net/fatfoe/ to educate consumers about weight loss scams.