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.