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FTC cracks down on fake news sites hawking acai

Consumer Reports News: April 19, 2011 03:38 PM

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is taking a harsh legal stand against 10 companies and individuals marketing acai berry weight-loss products online by using fake news websites which imply endorsement from major media outlets—including Consumer Reports.

According to the FTC, the defendants' deceptive online practices involve creating "news" that seem to be from legitimate organizations such as ABC, CBS, Consumer Reports, CNN and others. And although the fake online news sites may contain headlines ("Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?") and logos from major news organizations, they really are just advertisements, says the FTC.

David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in today's news release:

Almost everything about these sites is fake: The weight loss results, the so-called investigations, the reporters, the consumer testimonials, and the attempt to portray an objective, journalistic endeavor.

Consumer Reports Health experts have indeed covered acai—including several acai juices and related products in our natural medicines section. But along with other folks, we've said the claims of acai berry juice might be just hype. We warned that the acai berries "might be high in antioxidants but there’s little evidence it has the special weight-loss or other powers that are often touted in Internet ads.".

The FTC's lawsuit against these online marketers of acai products seeks to permanently bar these deceptive practices as well as provide refunds to consumers duped into buying the supplements.

FTC Seeks to Halt 10 Operators of Fake News Sites from Making Deceptive Claims About Acai Berry Weight Loss Products [FTC]
10 Fake News Sites (PDF) [FTC]
Example of a fake news site hawking acai (PDF) [FTC]
FTC Files Complaints For Acai Supplement Marketing [Dow Jones Newswire via WSJ]

Paul Eng

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