Federal investigators agree: If a diet sounds too good to be true, it probably is, even if a reporter is telling you about it.

We watch the professional sounding, earnest-looking reporters tell us that they just completed a comprehensive analysis of something called acai berry supplements and “it appears almost magical.”  They insist that this berry from a tree in the Brazilian rain forest causes major weight loss in a short period of time with no diet or exercise.

Come on. Who would believe this?

Is this really news or an ad?

The Federal Trade Commission says thousands of consumers did and the federal fighters of fraudulent advertising have done something about it.

The Commission filed suit this week against 11 alleged scam operators across the country who have created phony news reports and websites making unsubstantiated clams about the acai and its dietary properties.

The FTC ordered the operators to permanently stop using misleading (yet effective) fake news sites and has asked the courts to freeze the operations’ assets pending trial.

The Commission charged that the defendants:

  • Made false and unsupported claims that acai berry supplements will cause rapid and substantial weight loss;
  • Deceptively represent that their websites are objective news reports;
  • Used unscientific tests to demonstrate the effectiveness of the berry product, and failed to disclose their financial relationships to the merchants selling the products.

The FTC complaints allege that typical fake news sites have real sounding titles such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News.”

The segments were taped on phony news-desk sets, often with the names and logos of major media operations – ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports – flashing on the screen or as a crawler or on websites.

It’s obvious by the evidence that the FTC cited that the scammers understood the gimmicks that actual news shows use to attract viewers. An investigative-sounding headline on one such site proclaimed “Acai Berry Diet Exposed:  Miracle Diet or Scam?”

Acai Berries

Another promoted the “news” as part of  a new series:  “Diet Trends:  A look at America’s Top Diets: We examine consumer tips for dieting during a recession.”

This clip, as did many, purported to share the reporter’s first-hand experience with acai berry supplements.  In many of these ringing endorsements, the counterfeit journalist claimed to have lost 25 pounds in four weeks.

If you want to see how a couple of these “new reports” looked,  here’s a link and here’s another.

“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.”

The berry promoters were also very effective in kidnapping websites belonging to TV personalities or food safety advocates.

For example, Consumer Reports, which was also alluded to in the scam, had done its own report on bogus news reporting of diet and health fad in February of last year. But that didn’t keep the con operators from using the CR in its material.

The websites of Oprah and the famous foodie Rachael Ray were also usurped. This will take you to the media star’s  response

The FTC has issued a consumer alert warning of the hazards of these phony news stories and how to figure out if you’re being scammed.

–Andrew Schneider


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