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Tuesday
Jan072014

FTC Cracking Down on Weight Loss Product Ads

FTC(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Trade Commission will crack down on false advertising by the producers of fad weight-loss products, the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection announced at a press conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday morning.

At the agency’s first press event of the year, director Jessica Rich made public several charges against popular brands, including super spice SENSA and luxurious L’Occitane, for their deceptive claims with weight-loss and body-slimming products. The various settlements announced Tuesday total $34 million dollars in funds to be made available in refunds for consumers. According to the FTC, companies that lie about how many inches their products will shed, can expect more charges to come.

“It is no secret that every January millions of consumers resolve to lose weight,” Rich said. “It is an easy resolution to make, but a very hard one to keep. One reason is that consumers face a barrage of opportunistic marketers making claims of quick ways to shed pounds and shave inches."

“But the chances of being successful with at substantial weight loss by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing creams on your body or using a supplement? Well, they’re slim to none,” Rich continued.

The largest settlement announced was with SENSA, a popular product promising dramatic weight-loss by sprinkling their powered product on your meal. The company failed to disclose that it paid consumers up to $5,000 for endorsements in TV commercials and ads, the FTC charged. In addition, the FTC alleged SENSA creator and part-owner, Dr. Alan Hirsch, lied about the merit of his medical studies.

Under the settlement, which names SENSA Inc., Dr. Hirsch, and the company’s CEO Adam Goldenberg, SENSA will pay $26.5 million in consumer reimbursements and is forbidden from making unsubstantiated claims about the weight-loss benefits of their products. SENSA will stay on the shelves, but the FTC says the company will have to back up any assertions that the product actually works.

“They have to have substations for any claims that they make in this area. They can’t say they have clinical studies if they don’t,” Rich said.

“The order should require them to substantially change their conduct,” she continued. SENSA made $364 million in U.S. sales last year, according to the agency.

The FTC also appealed to the media for help. As a part of what the agency is calling “Operation Failed Resolution,” it sent letters 75 newspapers and broadcasters and launched a website with information on ways to identify “bogus claims.”

“Consumers are more likely to believe claims promoted in their favorite magazines or stations,” Rich said. “We do our best to stop weight-loss fraud once it runs, but the most effective frontline defense is when media outlets adopt effective in-house clearance programs to spot and reject clearly deceptive weight loss ads.”

L’Occitane agreed to pay $450,000 for misleading consumers about the benefits of its Almond Beautiful Shape and Almond Shaping Delight skin creams. The FTC also charged Arizona-based company HCG Diet Direct for advertising the health benefits of gonadotropin -- a hormone that the FTC has been falsely promoted as a weight-loss agent for decades. Last, the agency announced charges against several individuals with the company LeanSpa that allegedly built fake news websites to promote a colon-cleansing product and promised consumers free trials that were not, in fact, free.

For the thousands of Americans trolling the web in search for a post-holiday pound-shedding cure, the agency also built a mock weight-loss website that alerts users to common tricks of the diet trade.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio