Washington, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says a network of online marketers and the three people behind it have agreed to settle charges they sold more than 40 weight-loss, muscle-building, and wrinkle-reduction products to consumers using unsubstantiated health claims, fake magazine and news sites, bogus celebrity endorsements and phony consumer testimonials.
The FTC also alleges the defendants used deceptive offers of “free” and “risk-free” trials, and automatically enrolled consumers without their consent in negative option auto-ship programs with additional monthly charges.
The court order settling the charges imposes a judgment of $179 million, which is the amount FTC alleges consumers nationwide paid the defendants over a period of more than five years. The settlement of about $6.4 million will suspend the judgment, and bans the defendants from using deceptive marketing and billing tactics.
The FTC’s complaint names Richard Fowler, Ryan Fowler and Nathan Martinez and 19 companies they control, which operate as Tarr, Inc. It alleges Tarr, Inc. used fake media websites with domain names that appeared to be legitimate news or magazine sites, such as goodhousekeepingtoday.com, menshealth.com–i.link and womenshealthi.com
These fake sites had mastheads for what appeared to be legitimate news and journal organizations, including Men’s Health, Good Housekeeping, and Everyday with Dr. Oz. The sites featured reporters and celebrities, like Paula Deen, Dr. Oz, Jennifer Aniston, and Jason Statham, who supposedly used the products themselves and experienced dramatic results. The FTC alleges that these celebrities never endorsed the defendants’ products.
Among the false claims were an advertisement for one of the biggest sellers, the “Miracle Garcinia Cambogia” weight-loss product, which claimed: “I lost 23 lbs in 5 Weeks, No Special Diet, No Intense Exercise.” The FTC said the ads also falsely stated the products’ dramatic
The Commission vote approving the complaint and proposed stipulated final order was 2-0. The order was signed by Judge Larry A. Burns of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. A complete list of defendants can be found in the documents on the case docket page.