Marketer Must Pay $750,000
As part of its ongoing efforts to protect consumers from bogus health claims, the Federal Trade
Commission has reached a settlement requiring Oreck Corporation to stop making allegedly false and unproven claims that two of its appliances can reduce the risk of flu and other illnesses, and eliminate virtually all common germs and allergens. The company also has agreed to pay $750,000 to the FTC.
The FTC’s allegations involve the Oreck Halo vacuum and the Oreck ProShield Plus air cleaner. The Halo is an upright vacuum cleaner with a light chamber that generates ultraviolet light onto the floor while vacuuming. The ProShield Plus is a portable air cleaner that filters air particles using an electrostatic charge. The Halo retailed for $599.95, while the ProSheiled Plus cost as much as $399.95.
According to the FTC complaint, Oreck advertised these two products through infomercials, traditional television ads, print ads, in-store displays, and ads online. During the 2009 holiday season, online ads pictured the Halo and the ProShield Plus side by side under the headline “Introducing the Oreck Flu Fighters, Help Reduce the Flu on Virtually any Surface and in the Air in Your Home” and claimed that the Prosheild Plus “captures and destroys many airborneviruses like the flu.” An infomercial for the Oreck Halo claimed, “The Oreck Halo has killed up to 99.9 percent of bacteria exposed to its light in one second or less,” and that the vacuum’s light chamber “has been tested and shown to kill up to 99.9 percent of certain common germs, plus dangerous pathogens like E. Coli and MRSA.”
The FTC charged Oreck Corporation with making these allegedly false and deceptive claims about the Halo vacuum cleaner:
- The Halo and the ProShield Plus prevent or substantially reduce the risk of flu.
- The Halo and the ProShield Plus prevent or substantially reduce the risk of other illnesses or ailments caused by bacteria, viruses, molds, and allergens – such as the common cold, asthma, and allergy symptoms.
- The Halo eliminates all or almost all common germs and allergens found on the floors in users’ homes, and is scientifically proven to do so.
- The Halo’s ultraviolet light is effective against germs, bacteria, dust mites, mold, and viruses embedded in carpets.
- The ProShield Plus eliminates all or almost all airborne particles from a typical household room under normal living conditions, and is scientifically proven to do so.
The complaint also alleges that Oreck provided deceptive advertisements to its franchised stores for their use in marketing the Halo and the ProShield Plus. According to the FTC, by doing so, Oreck provided the means and instrumentalities to its distributors to deceive consumers.
Under the terms of the administrative settlement, Oreck is barred from making any of the allegedly deceptive claims it challenged in the complaint for any vacuum cleaner or any air cleaning product – unless it has competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims. The company also is prohibited from making any claims about a product’s comparative health benefits without competent and reliable scientific evidence, and from misrepresenting the results of any scientific test, study, or research.
The FTC acknowledges the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus for its referral in this case.
The Commission vote to approve the administrative complaint and proposed consent agreement was 5-0. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through May 9, 2011, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in the Invitation To Comment part of the “Supplementary Information” section. Comments in electronic form should be submitted using the following weblink: ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/oreck and following the instructions on the web-based form. Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC requests that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative 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 respondent has actually violated the law.
A consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the respondent that the law has been violated. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. “Like” the FTC on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter.
(FTC File No. 1023033)
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