Financial Advice

Florida-based Supplement Sellers Settle FTC False Advertising Charges

Ads promised to fix everything from the common cold to HIV

Three Venice, Florida-based companies and their owners have settled Federal Trade Commission charges that they deceptively marketed and sold dietary supplements to prevent or treat everything from the common cold to high blood pressure and HIV/AIDS. The court order settling the FTC’s complaint bars them from similar future misrepresentations and prevents them from using fake testimonials or certification seals.

According to the FTC’s complaint, corporate defendants NextGen Nutritionals, Strictly Health, and Cyber Business Technology, and owners Anna McLean and Robert McLean, made false or unsubstantiated representations for five dietary supplements: 1) BioMazing HCG Full-Potency Weight-Loss Drops, 2) Hoodoba, 3) Fucoidan Force, 4) Immune Strong, and 5) VascuVite. Ads for the products appeared on a variety of websites the defendants operated.

According to ads for the defendants’ BioMazing HCG supplement, the product contained the hormone Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), which would “signal the brain’s hypothalamus to burn current body fat stores.” Ads further claimed that product users would burn 1,500 to 4,000 calories of excess fat per day, leading to one to two pounds of weight loss daily.

Ads for defendants’ Hoodoba diet pills claimed the product would suppress the appetite, and included supposed “real life success stories” from consumers who said they lost substantial weight, such as 100 pounds in six months, after using the product.

The defendants also sold Fucoidan Force, containing wakame seaweed and reishi mushroom extract. Ads for the product claimed that it would fight cancer by causing cell death and reducing tumor size, and stop the spread of HIV/AIDs to people who are not infected and to healthy cells in people who are already infected. The product also was supposedly clinically proven to relieve symptoms of HIV and hepatitis, improve liver health by reducing fibrotic tissue, and lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Immune Strong was touted as able to “super-charge your immune system” and “defeat the common cold, flu, viruses & deadly diseases.” It contained extracts from 19 plants. Citing “Rock-Solid Science,” the defendants claimed Immune Strong “works wonders” against cold, flu, and viruses, “reduces health-related time-off from work by a whopping 97%,” and fights ailments ranging from multiple sclerosis to HIV and cancer.

Finally, the defendants marketed VascuVite, capsules containing a variety of plant extracts and minerals. Ads claimed that “Ingredients Supported by Scientific Studies” would “Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally, Now.”  This claim was enhanced by quotes from supposed “happy customers” testifying to significant decreases in blood pressure from use of VascuVite.

The Commission’s complaint charges that the defendants’ weight-loss claims for BioMazing HCG and Hoodoba, the immune support and disease prevention and treatment claims for Fucoidan Force and Immune Strong, and the hypertension treatment claims for VascuVite, were false or unsubstantiated. The complaint also alleges that the defendants deceptively represented that consumer testimonials appearing in ads reflected the actual experience of consumers who used the products.

In addition, according to the complaint, the defendants posted a “Certified Ethical Site” seal on several of their websites, which directed consumers to “click to verify.” Consumer who clicked on the seal were taken to another website claiming that defendants’ website had been verified as “ethical” and “trustworthy” by Ethical Site, “the most reliable evaluator of trust in the online marketplace.” The FTC alleged that Ethical Site was not an independent third-party certification program, but was in fact owned and controlled by defendants Anna and Robert McLean.

The proposed court order setting the agency’s charges prohibits the defendants from making any of the seven “gut check” weight-loss claims that the FTC has publicly advised are always false when made for any dietary supplement, over-the-counter drug, or product applied to the skin. It also prohibits the defendants from making future weight loss and serious disease claims of the sort challenged in the complaint, unless the claims are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

The order further prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting the results of tests or studies, or the ingredients in any product. In addition, it forbids the company from using false testimonials or misrepresenting that any certification or seal has been provided by an independent entity who has verified the ads. The order imposes a judgment of $1,344,173, which will be partially suspended upon payment of $29,030, due to the defendants’ inability to pay.

The Commission vote approving the complaint and proposed stipulated final order was 2-0. The complaint and proposed stipulated order setting the FTC’s charges were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and settle the case against: 1) NextGen Nutritionals, LLC; 2) Strictly Health Corporation, LLC; 3) Cyber Business Technology, LLC; 4) Anna McLean, individually and as an officer of the corporate defendants; and 5) Robert McLean, individually and as an officer of the corporate defendants.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated final injunctions/orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial Advice

If Scammers Had You Pay Them Via Western Union, You Can Now File a Claim to Get Money Back

Company Paid $586 Million to Settle Charges

The Federal Trade Commission is alerting consumers who lost money to scammers who told them to pay via Western Union’s money transfer system between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017, that they can now file a claim to get their money back by goinginfographic describing the process for filing a claim to get a refund in the Western Union matter to before February 12, 2018.

“American consumers lost money while Western Union looked the other way,” said FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “We’re pleased to start the process that will get that money back into consumers’ rightful hands.”

“Knowing that its agents were involved in fraudulent schemes – and knowing that it had a legal obligation to detect and report this criminal conduct to the authorities – Western Union failed to act, leading to massive victim losses,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco.  “Returning forfeited funds to these victims and other victims of crime is one of the Department’s highest priorities. I want to commend our prosecutors, the FTC, and our law enforcement agent partners for their hard work that led to vindicating the rights of these victims.”

The refund program follows a settlement with the Western Union Company, which in January 2017 agreed to pay $586 million to resolve charges brought by the FTC and the U. S. Department of Justice. The FTC alleged that fraudsters were able to use Western Union’s money transfer system to get payments from their victims, even though the company was aware of the problem and received hundreds of thousands of complaints about fraud-induced money transfers made for fraudulent lottery and prizes, family emergencies, advance-fee loans, online dating and other scams. The company also allegedly failed to promptly discipline problem Western Union agents, and failed to have effective anti-fraud policies and procedures.

Affected consumers should go to to file claims, learn more, or get updates on the claims process – this infographic describes the process for filing a claim.

Some people who have already reported their losses to Western Union, the FTC, or another government agency will receive a form in the mail from the claims administrator, Gilardi & Co. The form will have a Claim ID and a PIN number to use when filing a claim online via Gilardi was hired by Justice Department, which is responsible for returning victims’ money as part of its settlement with Western Union.

Filing a claim is free, so consumers should not pay anyone to file a claim on their behalf.  No one associated with the claims process will call to ask for consumers’ bank account or credit card number.

The FTC’s case was investigated with the assistance of the U. S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Toronto Police Service Financial Crimes Unit, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Spanish National Police, and the Offices of the Attorney General for Arizona, Minnesota, and Vermont.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial Advice

FTC Halts Abusive Debt Collection Operation

You have the right to be treated fairly by debt collectors. Under federal law, they can’t use abusive, deceptive or unfair practices to collect from you. But not all debt collectors play by the rules. In fact, at the FTC’s request, a federal court recently halted operations and froze the assets of a Georgia-based debt collection business that according to the FTC’s complaint used lies, threats and intimidation to collect more than $3.4 million from consumers since January 2015.

Here’s a taste of the defendant’s illegal tactics as alleged by the FTC:

  • They falsely told consumers across the nation they had committed a crime, like check fraud, and unless they paid the alleged debt, they could face arrest, lawsuits, wage garnishment — even jail.
  • They harassed consumers, even after given evidence that the debts had been paid off.
  • They illegally contacted family, friends, and employers about the consumers’ debts.
  • They failed to give consumers required notices and disclosures, like a written validation notice, which has to include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor owed, and the consumer rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

If you get a call about a debt you don’t recognize, or don’t think you owe, here’s what you can do:

  • Find out who you’re dealing with. Ask for the collector’s name, the company’s name, and its address and phone number.
  • Ask for a written “validation notice.” It tells you how much money you owe, the name of the creditor, and what to do if you don’t think you owe the money.
  • Do your own detective work. Reach out to the company the collector says is the original creditor. They might help you figure out if the debt is legitimate — and if this collector has the right to collect the debt.

It’s important to understand your rights if you’re contacted by a debt collector. And if you believe a collector has violated those rights, the FTC wants to hear about it. Your complaint gives us a lead to follow, and may stop a collector from mistreating someone else. Got a minute? Watch our short video about Dealing with Debt Collectors.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial Advice

Changes in Social Security


Every October, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announces adjustments that are made to the Social Security program for the upcoming year. What effect will these changes for 2018 have on you?

More Money for Beneficiaries – Social Security beneficiaries receive cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) based on one of the standard measures of inflation – the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). This year, the CPI-W rose enough to merit a 2% COLA, the largest increase in six years.

The average retired worker should see a raise of $27 per month – not much, but every little bit helps. However, many retirees will never see that money. If you’re a Medicare enrollee with Part B premiums deducted from your Social Security benefits and you have been protected by the Medicare hold harmless clause, your premiums can’t rise at a greater rate than the annual COLA (which has been low in recent years). In 2018, the allowable premium increases are likely to increase enough to consume that $27 differential.

Higher Maximum Monthly Payout – Your Social Security benefits are determined by a formula that incorporates your highest inflation-adjusted 35 years of income. However, your maximum monthly benefit in retirement is capped based on proportion to maximum taxable earnings. That maximum monthly benefit is increasing significantly in 2018, rising from $2,687 per month to $2,788 per month.

Higher Cap on Maximum Taxable Earnings – Wealthier taxpayers will pay a bit more into the Social Security fund in 2018, acting as a tradeoff to the higher maximum monthly benefits. Income above a certain level is not subjected to Social Security tax, and that threshold income rises from $127,200 in 2017 to $128,700 in 2018.

Higher Full Retirement Age (FRA) – The FRA is in a transition period from age 66 to age 67. For beneficiaries born between 1943 and 1954, the FRA is age 66. For each birth year after that, the FRA rises by two months until reaching age 67 for beneficiaries born in 1960 or later.

Higher Withholding Thresholds for Early Filers – If you filed for Social Security benefits before your FRA, you can only earn a certain amount of income before your benefits are reduced proportionately.

For those who filed in their FRA year but haven’t reached their FRA yet, the threshold income increased to $3,780 per month ($45,360 per year). Above that income level, benefits are reduced by $1 for every $3 of income. For those who filed before their FRA year, the income threshold will rise to $1,420 per month ($17,040 per year). Above that income level, benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 of income.

Don’t fret if your benefits are reduced in this fashion – you’ll recoup them as a slightly higher monthly payout when you reach your FRA.

Higher Income Thresholds for Disability – While most people equate Social Security benefits with retirement, over 10 million people receive monthly disability-based payments from the SSA. The maximum monthly income threshold – the most income one can earn and still receive disability benefits – is increasing for 2018. Legally blind beneficiaries will be able to earn up to $1,970 per month, while other disability beneficiaries will be able to earn up to $1,180 per month.

Increased Work Credit Threshold – You need 40 work credits over your working lifetime to qualify for Social Security, and you can earn up to four credits each year. Each credit required at least $1,300 in earned income in 2017, but the work credit threshold will increase to $1,320 for 2018.

Will you come out ahead, behind, or about the same with next year’s Social Security changes? We hope that you come out ahead – but if not, there’s always hope for a positive adjustment next year.

This article by Moneytips first appeared on and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial Advice

Now That You’ve Frozen Your Credit, How Do You Thaw It?

Following the massive Equifax breach, many Americans are placing freezes on their credit to prevent hackers and identity thieves from opening new accounts in their names. Not only did I recently discuss the option of freezing your credit but also went ahead and did it myself. In my state, this process cost me a total of $10 (normally $5 per credit bureau but Equifax is currently waiving freeze fees) and only about 15 minutes or so to set up. Then this week I had to navigate another credit question: how do I unfreeze — or “thaw” — my credit?

When we froze our credit in the first place, my wife and I were fairly certain that we wouldn’t need to access it for the foreseeable future. I guess our psychic powers are lacking as, just a couple of weeks later, I was lured by the perks of the new Uber Visa card and decided to apply. This meant I would need to issue temporary lifts on my freezes.

Before I get into the actual thawing process, I wanted to share a site I found helpful. See, just like when setting up a freeze, adding a temporary lift to your credit also costs a few dollars. The problem is that you likely won’t know off hand which bureau a new creditor will pull from. Thankfully that’s what Google is for and I came across a site called Doctor of Credit. Using crowdsourced data broken down by state, I was able to determine that Barclaycard (who’s issuing the Uber Visa) typically pulls your TransUnion report. I ended up thawing both TransUnion and Experian to be safe, but this information definitely came in handy.

Anyway, the thawing process starts off quite similar to the initial freezing process. For TransUnion, you should now have an account to log into to manage your freezes. Once logged in, I was able to select “Add a new lift” and set the dates I wanted my report to be available for. Like with the freeze itself, this cost me $5 in my state.

The process with Experian was similar except there was no login procedure. Instead, the bureau’s freeze center will give you the option to “Remove or lift a freeze.” To do this, you’ll of course need to enter all of your information including your social security number and, again, enter what dates you’d like the lift to be in place. While both TransUnion and Experian were simple to thaw, color me surprised to find Equifax wrought with frustration. After entering all of my information on Equifax’s freeze page, I received an error saying I would need to submit my request in writing (LOL). For the record, I also tried using their automated phone system only to end at the same conclusion. As a result, I forgoed lifting my Equifax freeze both because of the hassle and because, thanks to Doctor of Credit, I knew it was a longshot that Barclay would pull that report.

Equifax’s nonsense aside, it was actually quite easy to thaw my credit with the other two bureaus. Additionally, I was happy to see that WalletHub alerted me when the lift went into effect and when my report was pulled by a new creditor (Credit Karma alerted me to the pull but not the lift itself, so I guess I owe WalletHub another point). However, keep in mind that temporarily thawing your credit will likely cost you a few bucks, so you probably shouldn’t make a habit of doing it all the time. With that said, I highly recommend freezing your credit and protecting yourself in this post-Equifax hack world.

This article by Kyle Burbank first appeared on Money@30 and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial Advice

The Trump Bump and Housing


Stocks Outpace Housing

Few can argue that the stock market has experienced great growth under President Trump. The “Trump Bump” consists of an approximate 20% increase in both the Dow Jones and S&P 500 during the President’s first year in office.

Does the same Trump Bump translate to the housing market? A recent study by Trulia suggests that it doesn’t – or at least hasn’t to date. However, there are small signs within the Trulia study suggesting that the housing market may yet see strong sustained growth.

What Does A Housing Trump Bump Mean?

A Trump Bump is easy to define in the world of stocks, simply by comparing value changes during his term. It’s difficult to translate that term to the housing market. What is the correct metric to use? Is it home sales, valuation, housing starts, or some combination of factors?

For study purposes, Trulia created a Housing Market Indicator by county. It includes the number of building permits per thousand existing households and the value of those building permits, growth in home prices and rents, and the change in residential vacancies. By contrasting index values in 2017 to the average value over the four previous years, Trulia was able to highlight the differences between the Trump and second Obama terms in a color-coded interactive map.

Trulia concludes that the Trump Bump is more of a slight Trump Slump, given that 1,299 counties are doing at least slightly worse under Trump while 1,021 counties are doing slightly better. However, many counties had insufficient data to be assessed, making it possible that it’s really a draw or even a slight Trump Bump. In any case, it’s fair to say that there is no national large scale Trump Bump in the housing market.

Signs of Life

The Trulia report did note an increase in building permits, a major positive sign. Trulia found that 62% of counties are on track to issue more housing permits in 2017 than in the average of the four prior years.

The housing market has been throttled in recent years by a significant shortage in homes. Currently there is a 5-month supply of available homes (compared to a 6-month supply in a healthy housing market). With a short supply, prices are rising and existing homeowners are staying put instead of upgrading. The duration of existing homeownership is ten years, tying the highest mark since duration data has been collected.

Because of this, one of Trulia’s negatives may actually be a positive in the long term. While more permits have been approved, the overall value of those permits has declined. This doesn’t necessarily mean more affordable housing starts are on the way – but if it does, this trend could help to kick the overall housing market into a higher gear.

An Unhelpful Congress

At this point, Congress – and to a certain extent, President Trump – are on track to shift momentum toward a housing slump in almost all aspects of policy. While the President has attempted to relax regulations in many areas, his immigration policy is threatening the housing labor supply. Meanwhile, the tax plan working through Congress is set to eliminate many incentives to homeownership.

The House plan would drop the mortgage interest deduction on new mortgages to $500,000 from the existing $1 million, and mortgage interest on second homes and home equity loans would not be deductible at all. The Senate plan ends home equity loan deductions but leaves the $1 million limit intact. Both plans raise the standard deduction in hopes of pushing fewer people to itemize, taking the mortgage deduction off the table entirely.

The Senate plan eliminates the deduction for property taxes, while the House plan would allow the deduction up to $10,000. In areas with high housing costs, the loss of this deduction could be a substantial blow.

President Trump is expected to sign the final version of this tax bill – meaning that if a Trump Bump began to form through an increased housing supply, Trump himself would likely be the one to turn it into a slump.

The Takeaway

The housing market may indeed gather traction and experience a “Trump Bump” – although a short supply of affordable homes and a housing-unfriendly tax plan make the odds rather long. Perhaps the increase in housing permits will continue, eventually re-establishing equilibrium in the market, modulating prices, and setting the stage for sustained growth despite headwinds from poor policy choices.

Do you live in an area with a bump or a slump according to the Trulia map? Either way, your strategy should be the same. Keep tabs on the housing market in your area, both pricing and supply, as it may not match the national trends.

If you are a current homeowner, monitor the Congressional tax plans and see how the final version will affect your taxes so you can prepare your budget accordingly. If you are looking for a new home, start in advance by cleaning up any personal credit/debt situations and scour the local housing options while you do so. You will know a good deal when you see one, and will be in a suitable financial situation to act when you find one.

MoneyTips is happy to help you get free mortgage and refinance quotes from top lenders.

This article by Moneytips first appeared on and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial Advice

What is the Best Way to Get Rid of $8,000 of Credit Card Debt?


Dear Steve,

I have credit card debt 2 cards totalling under 8000 total for both. What is best way to tackle this issue?

I want to know what is best way to get out of debt not sure how much my APR is on my credit cards? I rarely pay attention to that.



Dear Robert,

You would be surprised that a seemingly simple question like “What is the best way to get out of debt” is actually a very complex issue.

Without a doubt the easiest way to get out of credit card debt is to pay the debt off in full. Outside of that the issue then becomes what is your current situation and what are your future financial goals.

Comparing your options on solutions you can use to deal with your debt is something you can do right now. Just use my online Get Out of Debt Calculator to look at the large solutions available.

But every situation is different. The best solution for you would be a customized solution that might include settling a credit card debt depending on who your creditor is. But maybe you just are not the kind of person that is attentive to details and would be good with rolling out an extended solution to deal with your debt.

The Best Way to Deal With Your Credit Card Debt

Without a doubt the best way to deal with your credit card debt is through a solution that you can afford, accomplishes the goals you want to achieve, and sets you up for future financial success.

If time and cost are your primary concerns then considering bankruptcy would be smart. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy would cost about $1,500 and your credit card debt would be eliminated in about 90 days. The moment you file bankruptcy you would not make any more payments on your unsecured debt and could just start saving that money and building an emergency fund.

And while some will say bankruptcy will ruin your credit, the reality can be found in the article Those That File Bankruptcy Do Better Than Those That Don’t.

Repairing your credit report after getting rid of your credit card debt is very easy. It's something you can do yourself.

Rebuilding your credit after bankruptcy is stupid simple. Just click here to see how simple.

But if you are already in a situation where you have an emergency fund to cover a financial surprise and you are already saving for retirement, then a credit counseling solution may be better for you to deal with your credit card debt.

More information is needed to give you the best advice. I’d suggest you start with “How to Get Out of Debt. The Honest and Unvarnished Truth.” And then let’s take it from there.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.