Attorneys General and Oprah take on supplement sellers
SEATTLE – Washington consumers looking to lose weight or wrinkles have jumped at “free trial” offers for açaí berry and resveratrol products. But the fruity supplements came with unexpected costs, say officials at the Washington Attorney General’s Office who want to warn shoppers about deceptive advertising practices.
Açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-ee or ah-sah-ee) is a berry from a South American palm tree. Resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, among other foods, is an element of red wine. Weight loss supplements, vitamins and colon cleansers associated with these ingredients are widely marketed online via pop-up ads and ads on social networking sites.
The attorneys general of several states including Washington are working to correct the abuses in the açaí berry offers seen on the Internet.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has received more than 100 consumer complaints since October 2008 concerning such products. Most are from consumers who responded to free trial offers then were surprised when their credit cards were charged for additional shipments or for other products they didn’t know they had bought.
Last week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and talk show host Oprah Winfrey announced lawsuits against promoters of such products.
Madigan’s office sued three suppliers and a local affiliate marketer. The firms are accused of using aggressive Internet marketing techniques to lure customers with free trial offers then charging customers' credit cards prematurely. She also alleged that the firms did not always supply the product and made their "free" offer nearly impossible to cancel.
Harpo, Inc., which produces “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The Dr. Oz Show,” along with Dr. Oz, filed suit against 40 Internet marketers of açaí berry-containing products, accusing them of capitalizing on Winfrey's reputation. Dr. Oz praised anti-aging properties of the açaí berry and resveratrol on Winfrey’s show. Shortly after, they say supplement companies began illegally using their names and likeness to help sell their products. Neither Winfrey nor Oz has ever sponsored or endorsed any dietary supplement product.
In addition, three of the larger players operating out of Arizona, Texas and Florida have reached agreements with attorneys general in their home states that impose various marketing restrictions, fines and consumer restitution.
At this time, the Washington Attorney General’s Office is neither endorsing nor denying any health claims regarding the effectiveness of products containing açaí berry and resveratrol but wants consumers to be wary of weight loss and health claims that sound too good to be true.
If you believe you were the victim of unfair or deceptive marketing practice, you may file a complaint with the Washington Attorney General’s Office online at atg.wa.gov or contact the Consumer Resource Center art 1-800-551-4636 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.
: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager – Seattle, (206) 464-6432, firstname.lastname@example.org