The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has obtained a US federal court order to stop an Internet marketing scheme that deceptively sells Colopure, a so-called colon cleanser, acai berry supplements, and other products.
In addition to false claims that the products prevent cancer and promote weight loss, the company cheats consumers by promising a “free” or “risk-free” trial and then charging credit cards, not once but monthly. Consumers who tried to stop the billing had difficulty reaching the company to do so and telephone staff were actively urged to lie to customers who called to complain.
The court order halts the allegedly illegal activities of Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc., freezes their assets, and appoints a temporary receiver over CCN assets while the FTC continues to investigate bogus health claims and deceptive consumer information.
David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said,
Too many ‘free’ offers come with strings attached. In this case, the defendants promised buyers a ‘risk free’ trial and then illegally billed their credit cards again and again – and again. We estimate that about a million people have fallen victim to this scam. As if that weren’t enough, there were fake endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray for a product that didn’t work in the first place.
In its request to the court, the FTC says that in 2009 alone that the scheme took in at least $30 million.
The FTC charges that CCN:
- Falsely claimed that AcaiPure could lead to rapid, substantial weight loss, saying people taking AcaiPure reported weight loss anywhere from 10-25 pounds in the first month.”
- Made unproven claims that AcaiPure’s weight-loss claimswere backed by “double-blind, placebo-controlled weight loss studies.”
- Deceptively claimed that Colopure could help prevent colon cancer because it would “cleanse your entire system,” “detoxify your organs,” and break down and remove “toxic waste matter which may have been stuck in the folds and wrinkles of your digestive system for years and years.”
In addition CCN falsely claimed that celebrities endorsed the products.
- In marketing AcaiPure, the defendants declared on their homepage, “Acai Berry rated #1 SUPERFOOD by Rachael Ray”.
- A photo of Oprah appeared on the homepage, next to a quote that read in part, “Studies have shown that this little berry is one of the most nutritious and powerful foods in the world!”
Both Ray and Winfrey have denied endorsing AcaiPure.
Finally, once consumers provided a credit card number to pay for shipping their “free” trial and being promised that they would not have any risk or obligation. In fact, if they didn’t return the supplements within 14 days, a fact that wasn’t disclosed clearly, they were charged.
- Credit cards were billed for the full cost of the supplements — typically $39.95 to $59.95.
- They were then automatically enrolled in a membership program, sent additional monthly supplies of the products, and billed for them.
- Also, without adequate disclosure, consumers were automatically charged for other expensive items unless they opted out.
- Numerous unauthorized charges were made to consumers’ credit and debit card accounts.
- Consumers’ bank accounts were debited on an automatic, recurring basis, without obtaining proper preauthorization.
The Better Business Bureau has given Central Coast Nutraceuticals a “F” rating based on nearly 3,000 complaints, many of which were not responded to.
In June of 2009, Central Coast Nutraceuticals agreed to stop advertising that Colotox would prevent colorectal cancer and remove toxins from the body under pressure from the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. However, they simply changed the name to Colopure and continued to promote it.
Also, in 2009, the Arizona Attorney General obtained a consent order prohibiting CCN from continuing its deceptive sales practices. The order also called for $1,000,000 in civil penalties, $350,000 to pay back consumers, and $25,000 to cover state legal costs. Despite the consent agreement, CCN has continued its marketing scheme.
Gastroenterologists say that there is no reason to clean the colon routinely, other than to prepare for tests like colonoscopy. In fact, colon cleansing may be dangerous because it removes healthy bacteria in the colon necessary to digest nutrients and prevent infection. For a history of colon cleansing going back to the ancient Egyptians and information about how the lining of the colon and resident bacteria prevent toxins and feces from building up, you might want to read Myths and Realities: Colon Cleansing: Healthful or Just a Load of @$%! by Chau Che MD on the New York University Clinical Connections Internal Medicine Blog.