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Consumer Law

Some Companies Behind Shrinking Belly Ad Are Conning Consumers, FTC Alleges

Posted Jul 7, 2011 8:16 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Those online ads showing a shrinking waistline and offering “1 Tip for a Tiny Belly” have linked to some diet companies that are conning consumers, the Federal Trade Commission has alleged.

Independent promoters sell the ads to companies hawking diet products made from foods such as acai berries and African mangoes, as well as a human hormone known as hCG, the Washington Post reports. The FTC has filed 10 lawsuits against the acai berry marketers claiming deceptive advertising, but has taken no action against the other marketers.

People who click on the belly ad are led to fake diet or news sites that feature articles claiming to investigate diet claims, the Post says, citing FTC allegations. Reviews are favorable, as people claiming to have used the products rave about the results. People reading the claims are then directed to a website, where they can order “trial samples” of the products.

The FTC has alleged in the acai berry suits that the news sites aren’t legitimate and the weight loss claims can’t be substantiated. Consumers who don’t read the fine print won’t realize that they will be regularly charged for new shipments of the product until they manage to call a toll-free number and endure the time-consuming cancellation process, the FTC says.

The Post says one company tried to protect itself with this fine print on a fake news page: “This website, and any page on the website, is based loosely off a true story, but has been modified in multiple ways including, but not limited to: the story, the photos, and the comments. Thus, this page, and any page on this website, are not to be taken literally or as a non-fiction story.”

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