DEVELOPING STORY: Online Claims About Acai Berry On FTC’s Radar Screen; Agency To Announce Action Against ‘Internet Marketers’ Next Week In Chicago (Oprah’s City)

In this YouTube promo for Data Network Affiliates (DNA), the images of Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey streamed for 10 continuous minutes. There is no evidence that either celebrity endorsed the company. Claims also were made on YouTube that Apple Inc. had a special "branding" relationship with DNA. No evidence to support the claim has surfaced.

In 2009, Oprah Winfrey sued more than 40 companies for trademark infringement amid claims they were fleecing the public by implying she endorsed their Acai berry products.

Winfrey, an American television and business icon, is based in Chicago. Harpo Productions, which produces The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Dr. Oz Show, filed the infringement lawsuit on behalf of Winfrey and Dr. Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon.

“Neither Ms. Winfrey nor Dr. Oz has ever sponsored or endorsed any acai, resveratrol or dietary supplement product and cannot vouch for their safety or effectiveness,” Harpo said on the Oprah website last year. “It is our intention to put an end to these companies’ false claims and increasingly deceptive practices.”

Oz issued a statement last year on the Oprah site, saying scammers were using his name to swindle the public.

“The companies that are using my name to hawk these products are duping the public,” Oz said. “I do not endorse any of these products. By falsely presenting products as ‘scientifically proven’ and endorsed by well-known figures, these companies do a gross disservice to the public health and could even pose a danger to those who believe their false and unproven claims. I am taking this step in the interest of public safety. I feel compelled to stand up against these companies and their deceitful practices.”

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that its Chicago office will announce an “action against Internet Marketers of Acai berry weight-loss pills and ‘colon cleansers.'” The FTC announcement is expected Monday.

It was not immediately clear if the agency’s decision to announce the news in Chicago was a coincidence. What is clear is that Winfrey’s name often is appropriated by scammers or purveyors of questionable “business opportunities” and products and services in a bid to leech off her brand  and drive sales.

It also is clear that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is taking action against firms that falsely state or imply their products are endorsed by celebrities. The names of Winfrey and Oz are mentioned in three lawsuits Madigan filed last year.

Other celebrity names mentioned in the Illinois lawsuits, which alleged deceptive trade practices for the manner in which products were marketed and customers were approached and billed, include Rachel Ray, Gweneth Paltrow, Courtney Love and Eva Longoria-Parker.

Madigan said scammers linked the names of celebrities to purported deals that involved free trials and claims of weight loss.

“For thousands of dieters, the quest for a miracle product has become a nightmare,” Madigan said last year. “Far too often, consumers end up losing their money — not  weight — in these deals.”

The attorney general did not mince words when describing bogus marketing practices.

“We must hold these Internet scammers accountable for their role in a seedy marketing game that steers unsuspecting consumers to online schemes,” Madigan said. “We also need to send a clear message to other marketers and networks in the business of designing misleading, traffic-enticing schemes.”

Earlier this year, Winfrey’s image appeared for 10 consecutive minutes in a YouTube video pitch for Data Network Affiliates (DNA), which purports to assist law enforcement in locating abducted children. The image of Donald Trump, another American business and entertainment icon, appeared in the same pitch.

Other YouTube pitches for DNA implied that the company had a special, cell-phone branding deal with Apple Inc., which brought the world the iPhone.

Neither the Winfrey organization nor the Trump organization returned calls from the PP Blog earlier this year. Apple also did not return calls.

It is common for multilevel-marketing (MLM) participants to make fantastic claims about products, including false claims they are endorsed by celebrities and captains of industry.

The ad for DNA that included Winfrey’s image appeared months after she filed the lawsuit in the Acai berry cases last year. One DNA pitchman said in a conference call earlier this year that the company  had “certain people on speed dial that’s incredible.”

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3 Responses to “DEVELOPING STORY: Online Claims About Acai Berry On FTC’s Radar Screen; Agency To Announce Action Against ‘Internet Marketers’ Next Week In Chicago (Oprah’s City)”

  1. Quick note:

    Just came across an Acai berry site that was running a script to swap in city names for the IPs of web browsers — i.e., the seller wants customers to believe they are buying the product from a person in their own city.

    The domain name, which is a .org, appears to be registered in Greece — although the site assured me the seller was in my U.S. city. A spokesmodel wearing a bikini assured me she was a local.

    The site appears also to have a bogus comments board that also was running a script and using bogus posts or shills.

    In my brief web travels today, I also came across a site that had a bunch of bizarre disclaimers, including showing a person who appeared to be a doctor in a lab coat, but then disclaiming he was a doctor.

    Also came across a site that trapped me — meaning message balloons with confusing language on how to get off the page appeared. The page appeared to be designed to render the “back” button on my browser useless.

    It is OBVIOUS just in a brief amount of research that scammers galore are selling Acai berry products.

    Patrick

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  2. So what products could have used the name of Courtney Love? Cocaine, guns, and ammunition?

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  3. I was one of the ones scammed by this company. I bought two different “samples” for $3.95 each. I purchased them a day apart and used 2 different debit cards for payment. I bought these based on the high recommendations of them by Dr. OZ and Oprah. I was aware that they could recharge me each month if I did not cancel my agreement within 14 days. On day 10 I called and cancelled BOTH accounts and was given verification #’s. Over the next couple of weeks I received probably 10 more bottles of various products and found charges on both debit accounts totaling approx. $900. When I tried to resolve this with the Company I was sent from one person to another, few of which I could understand and I got no where, as I was told I never cancelled my agreements. The verifications #’s meant nothing to them as they suddenly had no record of that. I filed fraudulant charge complaints with both banks and even had to go to my local Police and file a complaint. I received a refunf of $450. from my one bank but my credit union, the one that required the Police report, would never refund the fraudulant charges so I was out $450. when I thought I was only getting 2 $3.95 smples. I am so sick and tired of being ripped off!

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