The Federal Trade Commission has asked to federal courts to issue temporary restraining orders to stop 10 alleged “fake news” operations from using their Web sites to market acai berry weight-loss products. The FTC seeks to permanently stop these practices and has asked courts to freeze the operations’ assets pending trial.
According to the FTC, the websites that are intended to appear as if they belong to legitimate news organizations. However, the FTC maintains that the sites are simply advertisements using deceptive practices to entice consumers to buy the featured acai berry weight-loss products from other merchants.
The FTC complaints allege that the fake news sites have titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News.” They often include the names and logos of major media outlets such as ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports and falsely represent that the reports on the sites have been seen on these networks.
The FTC is asking the courts to permanently bar the allegedly deceptive claims, and to require the companies to provide money for refunds to consumers who purchased the supplements and other products. The FTC charges that the defendants:
- make false and unsupported claims that acai berry supplements will cause rapid and substantial weight loss;
- deceptively represent that their websites are objective news reporters, that independent tests demonstrate the effectiveness of the product, and that the comments following the “articles” on their websites reflect the views of independent consumers; and
- fail to disclose their financial relationships to the merchants selling the products.
Acai berry supplements are often marketed to consumers who hope to lose weight. In 2010, the FTC filed an action against acai berry marketer Central Coast Nutraceuticals for deceptively marketing acai berry supplements as weight-loss products, and “colon cleansers” as an aid for preventing cancer.
The defendants running the fake news sites who were charged in these cases make very similar claims that consumers can experience dramatic weight loss by taking acai berry supplements in combination with a companion product such as a so-called colon cleanser.
The FTC filed the 10 complaints and requests for temporary restraining orders in six federal courts:
- In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, the agency filed complaints against Beony International LLC, Mario Milanovic, and Cody Adams; Zachary S. Graham, Ambervine Marketing LLC, and Encastle Inc.; Intermark Communications, Inc. also doing business as Copeac, and IMM Interactive; Ricardo Jose Labra; and Thou Lee, also doing business as TL Advertising.
- In the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the agency filed a complaint against Circa Direct LLC and Andrew Davidson.
- In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the agency filed a complaint against Coulomb Media, Inc., and Cody Low, also known as Joe Brooks.
- In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the agency filed a complaint against DLXM, LLC, also doing business as DLXM LLC, and Michael Volozin, also known as Mikhail Volozin.
- In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the agency filed a complaint against Charles Dunlevy.
- In the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the agency filed a complaint against Tanner Garrett Vaughn, also doing business as Lead Expose, Inc., and Uptown Media, Inc.