10:19am

Wed April 20, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

This Just In: Fake News Is No Way To Sell Acai Berries

Some marketers of weight-loss products containing acai berries are also purveyors of news you shouldn't use, the Federal Trade Commission says.

The FTC has asked federal courts to put a stop to the activities of 10 different outfits that the commission alleges use "fake news websites" to tout acai berry weight-loss products.

Chances are you've stumbled across the sites, which often sport the logos of major mainstream news organizations, such as ABC, CNN and Consumer Reports. (See this example posted by the FTC.)

Take, for example the FTC's complaint against Beony International LLC, a company based in San Diego.

The company allegedly ran sites with names such as "News 6 News Alerts," "Health News Health Alerts," and "Health 6 Beat Health News." The sites feature purportedly objective investigative reports of acai products by reporters, who supposedly tried the stuff "and experienced dramatic and positive results."

But the FTC says in its complaint:

In fact, Defendants' news reports are fake. Reporters or commentators pictured on the sites are fictional and never conducted the tests or experienced the results described in the reports. The 'responses' and 'comments' following the reports are simply additional advertising content, not independent statements from ordinary consumers.

Beony International couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

But David Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, had plenty to say in a statement:

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.

So the FTC is going after the companies with charges they're making false and unsubstantiated product claims, making misrepresentations that constitute deceptive advertising and failing to disclose the relationship between the news sites and the websites where the products are sold.

The real Consumer Reports put the spotlight on acai scams last year. Some tips for sniffing out the scammers:

  • Beware of lists of endorsements from recognized sources of news.
  • Mouse over links and check to see whether they lead to sales sites.
  • Watch out if all the articles and videos are all favorable
  • "Fawning comments" and a block on readers ability to post comments of their own.
  • Itsy-bitsy disclaimers and "free trials" that sock consumers with hefty charges

The Better Business Bureau put together a video on some of the "free trials" that led to tons of credit card charges, which you can watch below. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.