The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced enforcement actions against four companies the agency said used deceptive advertising claims to sell weight-loss products. In total, the four companies - Sensa, L'Occitane, HCG Diet Direct and LeanSpa - have agreed to pay about $34 million for consumer redress.
The FTC has also updated guidance for publisher and broadcasters on how to spot phony weight-loss claims when screening ads for publication. “Gut Check: A Reference Guide for Media on Spotting False Weight-Loss Claims” describes seven weight loss claims that can’t be true and should
prompt a “gut check” – a second look to make sure publishers are not
running advertisements with claims known to be false. The guide also
contains advice on dealing with problematic areas like consumer
testimonials and fine print disclosures. The Gut Check guidance updates
the Red Flag Bogus Weight-Loss Claims reference guide for media that
the FTC first published in 2003.
Sensa sold a sprinkle-on food additive that promised users would lose weight without exercising. Users paid about $60 for one-month supply of Sensa products, which were
sold online and at retail chains that included Costco and GNC. U.S.
retail sales between 2008 and 2012 totaled more than $364 million, according to the FTC. The FTC said Sensa used faulty science in its marketing to mislead consumers and ordered the company to return $26.6 million to consumers. The case was filed against Sensa, its parent firm, and two individuals who was chief executive and co-owner of the company.
L'Occitane, which the FTC said had no evidence to back up the claim that its skin cream would slim down a person's body, will pay $450,000. HCG Diet Direct, which marketed a human hormone for weight-loss treatments, will surrender about $7.3 million in assets.
The fourth company, LeanSpa, which marketed acai berry and colon cleanse supplements, was granted a suspended settlement from the FTC because the company's inability to pay.
Weight-loss products remain one of the FTC's top enforcement priorities. Makers of weight-loss products should ensure that their product claims (including testimonials used) are truthful, not misleading and supported by scientific evidence.