Telebrands Corp., TV Savings LLC, and their owner, Ajit Khubani, have been charged by the Federal Trade Commission with making the same type of false claims in the marketing and sale of their "Ab Force" electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) belt as those the FTC targeted in "Project ABSurd." The FTC alleges in an administrative complaint announced today that the respondents, through their advertisements and promotional materials for the Ab Force belt, falsely claimed that the belt causes loss of weight, inches, and fat; causes well-defined abdominal muscles; and is an effective alternative to regular exercise.
In May 2002, as part of "Project ABSurd," the FTC challenged claims made by the marketers of three widely advertised EMS belts - the Ab Tronic, AB Energizer, and Fast Abs. The Commission alleged that the marketers of those products falsely advertised that users would get "six pack" or "washboard" abs without exercise. In July 2003, the FTC announced a settlement of over $5 million resolving the Fast Abs litigation. The Commission also announced that the U.S. district court in Nevada granted the FTC's motion for partial summary judgment against five of the seven Ab Tronic defendants, holding them liable for $83 million in redress. The AB Energizer case still is pending.
"There is no 'free ride' on misleading advertising," said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "If you purposely evoke the false claims made for a similar product, then your ads also are deceptive. And you should expect to hear from the FTC."
The FTC's complaint, filed before an administrative law judge, alleges that the New Jersey-based respondents violated the FTC Act by representing that Ab Force could produce the same results touted in the deceptive infomercials for Ab Tronic, AB Energizer, and Fast Abs.
Those infomercials essentially claimed that users could achieve weight loss, fat loss, and inch loss, get well-developed abs, and obtain results that were equivalent to volitional exercise. The Ab Force ads show well-muscled, bare-chested men and lean, shapely women wearing Ab Force belts and purportedly experiencing abdominal contractions. The ads expressly referred to "those fantastic electronic ab belt infomercials on TV" that the announcer is "sure" the viewer has seen. According to the FTC's complaint, the Ab Force ads, including through references to the prior ab infomercials, falsely claimed that:
The FTC has taken four previous actions against Ajit Khubani and Telebrands. In 1990 and 1996, the Commission obtained consent judgments prohibiting Khubani and his corporations from violating the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (Mail Order Rule) and requiring them to pay penalties of $35,000 (1990) and $95,000 (1996). In 1999, the FTC modified the existing 1996 consent judgment with the defendants and obtained penalties of $800,000 to resolve alleged violations of the Mail Order Rule. In addition, in 1996, the FTC obtained an administrative order prohibiting Khubani and Telebrands from violating the FTC Act in connection with the marketing of television antennas and hearing aids.
In an administrative trial, the FTC will seek to prohibit Telebrands, TV Savings, and Khubani from making any misrepresentations about Ab Force or any other EMS device. The FTC also will seek to prohibit them from making any unsubstantiated representations about weight, inch, or fat loss, muscle definition, or the health benefits, safety, or efficacy of Ab Force or any EMS device, or any food, drug, dietary supplement, device, or any other product, service, or program.
In addition, as set forth in the notice order, the FTC is seeking to require Khubani to obtain a $1 million performance bond before engaging in any manufacturing, labeling, advertising, promotion, offering for sale, sale, or distribution of any device. The notice order also includes various reporting requirements to assist the FTC in monitoring the respondents' compliance with its provisions. Finally, the notice order notes that the Commission may seek redress for consumers who purchased the Ab Force.
The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and notice order was 5-0.
NOTE: The Commission issues s a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondents have actually violated the law. Such action marks the beginning of a proceeding in which the allegations will be ruled upon after a formal hearing.
Copies of the complaint and notice order are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1 877-382-4357), or use the complaint form http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC Matter No. 022 3279)