Posted August 31, 2007

FTC Stops Spammers Selling Bogus Hoodia and Human Growth Hormone

On August 23, 2007, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), announced that spammers must stop sending unwanted and illegal e-mail messages about hoodia weight-loss products and human growth hormone anti-aging products the FTC alleges don’t work. At the FTC’s request, a district court judge ordered a halt to the e-mails and to product claims that the FTC charges are false and unsubstantiated.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the operation was responsible for spam messages that were sent to consumers. The illegal e-mails then drove traffic to the defendants’ Web sites. Those sites sold two types of products under a variety of names. Pills that allegedly contained hoodia gordonii and caused significant weight loss were sold under names such as “HoodiaHerbal” and “Hoodia Maximum Strength.” So-called “natural” products that were supposed to elevate a user’s human growth hormone (HGH) level and thereby dramatically reverse the aging process were sold under names that included “Perfect HGH” and “Dr-HGH.”

[See ConsumerLab.com's review article for the facts and myths about HGH supplements. Also see ConsumerLab.com's product review about hoodia and other supplements used for weight loss. ]

The FTC alleges that the claims made for the products were false and unsubstantiated. According to the FTC complaint, the defendants falsely claimed that their supposed “hoodia” products cause rapid and substantial weight loss, including as much as forty pounds in a month; cause users to lose safely three or more pounds per week for multiple weeks; and cause permanent weight loss. In fact, the weight-loss claims were false. The complaint also charges that the defendants falsely claimed that their supposed HGH products would contain human growth hormone and/or cause a clinically meaningful increase in a consumer’s growth hormone levels. According to the FTC, the defendants also falsely claimed that their HGH products would turn back or reverse the aging process, including: lowering blood pressure, reducing cellulite, improving vision, causing new hair growth, improving sleep, improving emotional stability, speeding injury recovery, relieving chronic pain, increasing muscle mass, and causing fat and weight loss.

The FTC’s spam database has received over 85,000 spam messages sent on behalf of the operation. According to court documents filed by the FTC, many of these e-mail messages were sent using Web form hijacking – a particularly insidious form of spamming. In Web form hijacking, the spammer injects the spam message into form fields on an innocent, third-party Web site (often a "Contact Us" form). The message uses the resources of and appears, deceptively, to come from the victim Web site operator’s mail server. This is the first time the Commission has filed a case against spammers using this tactic.

The FTC alleges that the operation violated the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 “CAN-SPAM Act” by initiating commercial e-mails that: contained materially false and misleading header information; contained deceptive subject headings; failed to provide clear and conspicuous opt-out links; and failed to include a physical postal address.

The complaint was filed against Sili Neutraceuticals, LLC and Brian McDaid, individually and doing business as Kaycon, Ltd. The federal district court judge ordered an ex parte temporary restraining order and asset freeze. A hearing is scheduled for August 27, 2007 to determine whether to extend the halt to the defendants’ claims and the asset freeze until the Commission’s case is resolved. The FTC ultimately seeks to permanently bar them from further violations and make them forfeit their ill-gotten gains.