The marketers of the dietary supplements FiberThin and Propolene have settled Federal Trade Commission charges that their misleading weight-loss claims violated federal laws. The principal defendants, located in Encinitas, California, are barred from making false claims about any dietary product in the future and are required to pay $1.5 million in consumer redress.
According to the FTC, the defendants used a television infomercial, short TV spots, and Web sites to market FiberThin and Propolene, two fiber-based dietary supplements they claimed would cause rapid, substantial weight loss without any need to diet or exercise. The supplements were marketed together with two purported metabolism enhancers, Excelerene and MetaboUp. FiberThin and Propolene purportedly contain glucomannan, while MetaboUp and Excelerene purportedly contain green tea, chromium, and bitter orange. The defendants charged $99.80 and $89.95, respectively, for 60-day supplies of FiberThin/MetaboUp and Propolene/Excelerene, and offered a “Take it Off, Keep it Off” automatic shipping program that would send consumers additional supplies for $29.95. The defendants advertised these products through a 30-minute television infomercial that aired on numerous television stations, including The Learning Channel, PAX Family Entertainment Network, Home and Garden TV, and CNBC.
In December 2003, the FTC announced its “Red Flag” campaign to educate members of the media about different types of bogus weight-loss advertising claims. The FTC’s complaint charged that the defendants made “Red Flag” claims in their ads, including that the product would cause rapid, substantial weight loss (more than 2 pounds per week) without the need to diet or exercise; that weight loss would occur no matter what the consumer ate; and that weight loss would occur in all users. The FTC also alleged that the defendants used “expert endorsers” on their infomercial and other TV ads to make “Red Flag” claims.
The FTC’s complaint named FiberThin, LLC and Obesity Research Institute, LLC; their owners, Henny Den Uijl and Bryan Corlett; and the “expert endorsers,” James Ayres and Jonathan M. Kelley, M.D., as defendants.
The stipulated final order permanently bars the defendants from making the challenged “Red Flag” claims and unsubstantiated claims for any weight-loss product, dietary supplement, food, drug, or device, or misrepresenting any scientific study for the purposes of marketing a dietary supplement. Defendants FiberThin, Obesity Research Institute, Henny Den Uijl, and Bryan Corlett are required to pay $1.5 million in consumer redress; the order contains a $41 million suspended judgment, which will become immediately due if it is found that the defendants misrepresented their financial situation. The order also contains standard recordkeeping provisions to assist the FTC in monitoring the defendants’ compliance.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the complaint and proposed stipulated final order was 5-0. The complaint and stipulated final order were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on June 14, 2005. The proposed stipulated final order requires the court’s approval.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
NOTE: This stipulated final order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the Commission’s complaint and the stipulated final order are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.