Feds: 'News' sites linked to diet products misleading

April 20, 2011 4:28:23 AM PDT
The Illinois Attorney General's Office and federal regulators have filed a lawsuit to stop fraudulent news websites that try to convince consumers to buy weight-loss products.

The Federal Trade Commission says the sites use the logos of major news agencies to mislead consumers into thinking that marketing information they post are real news reports.

"If they are claiming that the product produces 25 pounds of weight loss in four weeks, we allege this is a false and unsupportable claim," said Charles Harwood, FTC.

The FTC has been going after false marketing practices regarding weight loss products for years, but this latest crackdown is different. It targets online marketers who create websites meant to look like news reports.

"Consumers who are skeptical and think the claims sound a bit fishy might give up on that skepticism because, or be more likely to believe them simply because they're being made by someone who purports to be an objective and at least initially skeptical reporter," said Hardwood.

The FTC says the websites are in fact not news reports, even though they use names like CNNewsat06.org and prominently display the logos of several news organizations, including ABC. The commission says the websites exist solely to push consumers to buy their merchants' products, in some cases acai diet pills.

"This is not meant to be an indictment of the acai berry. If someone goes to Whole Foods and wants to buy a beverage made with acai, we're not making a comment about that," said Adam Sokol, Illinois Attorney General's Office.

Of the 10 online marketers being indicted across the country, one, Ishmael Lopez, operates out of Sauk Village, Illinois. No one answered the door at his home Tuesday, and neighbors say he hasn't been seen for days.

"Mr.Lopez registered 40 domain names in which the consumer might then end up linked to the acai weight loss products. On two of his sites, he has pictures of reporters or people who you believe are reporters," said Sokoll,

It is unclear clear how many people have fallen victim to the scam. The FTC says billions of the ads appear online. The crackdown's purpose, they say, is to permanently shut these fake news sites down and provide restitution to cheated customers.