The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled ten consumer fraud lawsuits against companies selling acai berry weight-loss products.
The most recent is against Central Coast, which has been banned from claiming that its acai products cause weight-loss.
The company has also been banned from offering “free trials,” or “introductory offers,” because consumers who signed up for the offers were automatically charged unless they canceled shipments or immediately returned the product. The FTC is cracking down on fraudulent internet marketing paid for by the company.
Central Coast, the company selling a variety of acai dietary supplements, was forced to pay $1.5 million in refunds to customers. The companies had hired third party vendors to make fake “news sites” that promoted acai berry products for weight loss. They also falsely claimed that celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray had endorsed the products. They claimed that anyone who requested a refund would receive one, when in reality, it was very difficult for people to get refunds after their credit/debit cards had been charged without their consent. They also falsely implied that the acai products could treat, prevent, or cure diseases.
The Better Business Bureau was flooded with complaints from people who had signed up for the “free trials,” and then been charged without their consent, and were unable to get a refund. Part of the FTC decision against the company will force it to give refunds to everyone who signed up for the trials.
The FTC has warned the company that it cannot make weight loss claims until there are two well-controlled human clinical trials. Supporters of acai berry health benefits are disappointed in the firms making bogus weight loss claims, because they could take away from the berry’s actual health benefits. Acai berries are high in antioxidants, they may eliminate free-radicals, and they may have cardiovascular benefits. They may also be able to help reduce atherosclerotic lesions in arteries, increase dexterity, and reduce pain in some individuals.
But there is no scientific evidence that acai can help with weight-loss. Companies that claim acai can help people lose weight are making claims that are not backed up by clinical studies or scientific evidence.
The Central Coast lawsuit is just one of many lawsuits against acai berry dietary supplement vendors. The FTC settlement includes an $80 million judgment, which will be waived if the president and CEO of Central Coast pays $1.5 million on personal assets.
The settlement would also require that the FTC receive all of the estimated $600,000 that remains in the accounts of Central Coast Nutraceuticals and its affiliates after all other expenses have been paid.