FTC takes action against 'fake' news sites

Multiple sites featured purported news reports on the weight-loss benefits of acai berry products

Several websites apparently featuring news reports that show the weight-loss benefits of acai berry products aren't what they appear to be, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois Attorney General's Office said Tuesday.

The news websites are fake, and the claims that acai berry products help people lose weight are not supported by science, the two agencies alleged. In the past week, the FTC has filed 10 lawsuits in courts across the U.S. and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed an additional lawsuit in her state against affiliate marketers of acai berry products, the two agencies announced.

The affiliate marketers place billions of advertisements linking back to the fake news sites, and consumers have paid an estimated US $10 million for acai berry products that don't cause weight loss, FTC officials alleged.

The websites, with names such as News 6 News Alerts and Health 5 Beat Health News, feature a phony news report with a reporter who claimed to lose weight using the products, the agencies said during a press conference. But multiple news sites used the same picture of a reporter, with a different name depending on the site, FTC officials said.

The fake news sites often used logos of legitimate news organizations, including CNN and USA Today, without their permission, FTC officials said.

"We're alleging that nearly everything about the defendants' websites is false and deceptive," said Charles Harwood, deputy director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The supposedly objective news reporter "always produces the same result" across several sites, Harwood added. According to the multiple reports, the reporter always lost 25 pounds in four weeks without changing her diet and exercise routine, he said. The picture of a reporter commonly used by the marketing sites is a real-life French reporter who didn't give her permission for the image to be used, officials said.

"We allege this is pure fabrication," Harwood said. "There never was any sort of test conducted by any independent reporter, and the weight-loss results ... are impossible to achieve. There simply is no scientific evidence that acai berries can help anyone lose weight, let alone cause rapid and substantial weight loss."

The purported news sites also contain "user" comments about weight loss using the acai berry products, including Acai Max and Acai Optimum, the FTC said. But the sites don't let visitors post comments, and the same user comments appeared on multiple sites "complete with the same spelling and grammatical errors," he said.

The FTC lawsuits have asked courts to halt the websites' allegedly deceptive practices.

IMM Interactive, a Woodbury, New York, marketing firm named in one of the FTC cases, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Two other defendants with contact information on their websites didn't immediately return messages seeking comment. Some of the other marketers named in the lawsuits didn't have contact information available.

Affiliate marketers and the companies that hire them can be held liable for deceptive practices, said Steven Wernikoff, an attorney with the FTC. Affiliate marketing can be a good way for companies to market their products, but "sometimes affiliates are willing to cross the line to make a sale," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags advertisingU.S. Federal Trade Commissione-commerceregulationCivil lawsuitsLisa MadigangovernmentinternetSteven WernikoffIllinois Attorney General's OfficeIMM InteractiveCharles Harwoodlegal

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?