Statement* of Jodie Bernstein, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at a Press Conference Announcing "Operation Cure.All"

For Release

GOOD MORNING,

As of December 1998 -- 22.3 million adults in this country sought health and medical information online. Nearly 70 percent of those searching for health information on the Web, did so before visiting a doctor's office. Most online consumers search for information about diseases, and about one out of four joins an online support group.

Today you will hear about the advantages of this burgeoning technology. You will hear from the Department of Health and Human Services about healthfinder, a federal consumer health information gateway. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration operates another web site with valuable accurate and unbiased information. And in the audience are members of other public and private groups here to publicize the wide variety of information currently available to assist consumers in need of health information and support.

We have seen the value of the Internet when the information provided is truthful.

But when information on Web sites is deceptive and untruthful, consumers are at a risk. Sites touting unproven remedies for serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and arthritis are exploding.

In 1997 and 1998 the FTC conducted two Health Claims Surf Days to help educate web site operators about federal laws governing fraudulent claims. We identified 800 sites that contained questionable promotions for products and services purporting to help cure, treat or prevent six serious diseases. We have made progress in our efforts to educate both consumers and online marketers. And we're continuing in our efforts.

Today we announce, "Operation Cure.All," a comprehensive law enforcement and consumer education campaign to combat health fraud on the Internet. Today's announcement combines law enforcement with innovative consumer and business education to protect consumers and address their need for accurate and reliable health information. Our message is quality, not quackery.

* This statement may not be an exact transcript of Ms. Bernstein's remarks.

Four companies have settled FTC charges that they made unsubstantiated health claims for products they advertised on the Internet.. The companies claimed the products cured serious diseases, like cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and arthritis.

The Arthritis Pain Care Center marketed CMO, claiming that this fatty acid cures most forms of arthritis. The company claimed that CMO is a 100 percent natural product that can actually reverse the effects of arthritis, once and for all. "Don't be fooled by reports from the Arthritis Foundation," it said. Full use of hands restored after five days of CMO. These claims are obviously deceptive.

Body Systems Technology sells consumers shark cartilage capsules. The company said these capsules were an effective treatment for cancer and HIV/AIDS. The claims were not substantitated.

Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies promoted magnetic therapy devices to treat cancer, HIV and other diseases.

And Pain Stops Here! also promoted magnetic therapy devices and made disease treatment claims for its devices. Both of these companies' claims were found to be unsubstantiated.

Consumers spend millions of dollars on unproven, deceptively marketed products on the Web. We will continue our law enforcement efforts but our limited resources cannot keep up with the proliferation of web sites promoting fraudulent products. Hopefully, consumers will increasingly turn to quality resources and put the quacks out of business.

I would like to recognize and thank the Food and Drug Administration for its assistance in Operation Cure.All and its ongoing cooperation in our law enforcement efforts in this area. The FDA is represented today by Gary Dykstra, Deputy Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs at the Food and Drug Administration. Thank you, Gary, for being here.

Our first speaker is Dr. Mary Jo Deering. Dr. Deering is Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) and Director of Health Communication and Telehealth Team at the Department of Health and Human Services. She chairs the steering committee for healthfinderHealthfinder.gov currently serves about 400,000 users each month and provides links to 5,000 reliable resources on the Web.

Thank you, Mary Jo.

Our next speaker is Scott Reents. Scott is manager of health care strategies at Cyber Dialogue, an online market research and database marketing company. Cyber Dialogue has conducted extensive primary research into the behaviors and attitudes of consumers using the Internet. In particular, it has been a leader in Internet health research, with recent research highlighting Internet marketing opportunities as well as consumer concerns about information credibility, security, and personal privacy online.

Thank you, Scott.

Our last speaker has first-hand knowledge of the tremendous challenges consumers face when diagnosed with a serious illness. Monica Frydman, of New York City. Monica is here to talk with us about her battle with cancer and how she and her husband, Gilles Frydman, turned her crusade against cancer into a tremendous online resource for all cancer patients. Monica and Gilles created the Association of Cancer Online Resources.

Thank you, Monica and Gilles.

Consumers need to know that while there is a lot of good information on the Internet there is a lot of deception and fraud. Consumers should be very skeptical about these bogus claims. Hopefully, what we have done today is give consumers new tools as they seek information and support about their health care.