The Federal Trade Commission took action Tuesday to shut down what it says are 10 websites that have been masquerading as news sites in an attempt to market acai berry weight-loss products. The FTC is asking courts in several states to freeze the operations' assets pending a trial, and to order the companies behind the products to provide refunds. Illinois' Attorney General has also filed suit.
Consumers paid between $70 and $100 for weight-loss products after being seduced by sites like Health News Health Alerts and Health 5 Beat Health News. Designed to look like news sites, they come complete with fake headlines and "as seen on" claims that draw on the credibility of legitimate operations like ABC News, CBS News, and Consumer Reports.
"Almost everything about these sites is fake," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection. "The weight-loss results, the so-called investigations, the reporters, the consumer testimonials, and the attempt to portray an objective, journalistic endeavor.
Last year, the FTC filed a suit against Central Coast Nutraceuticals, claiming the company had been deceptively marketing acai berry supplements as a weight-loss product.
Since 2009, when Congress passed the Pro-IP Act, a law designed to protect intellectual property, the federal government has aggressively gone after fraud and counterfeiting on the Internet. As part of the push, the Obama administration appointed a copyright czar, Victoria Espinel, who released a 200-page plan to coordinate intellectual property enforcement among government agencies.