Spam Emails Linked to “Fake News” Websites, Phony Celebrity Endorsements To Sell Unproven Dietary Supplements
The Federal Trade Commission charged a Florida-based affiliate marketing operation with bombarding consumers with illegal spam e-mail in an attempt to sell them bogus weight-loss products using false celebrity endorsements.
“These defendants used a variety of deceptive tactics to sell their bogus diet pills,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But we have a clear message for them – we want their illegal practices to stop and we want to give people back the money they took.”
The FTC’s complaint alleges that Colby Fox, Christopher Reinhold and their companies, Tachht, Inc. and Teqqi, LLC, paid for e-mails to be sent to consumers from hacked email accounts, making it appear to consumers that the messages came from their family members, friends, or other contacts. These email messages lured consumers into clicking on links that led to websites deceptively promoting the defendants’ unproven weight-loss products, such as Original Pure Forskolin and Original White Kidney Bean.
The email messages, according to the complaint, were designed to give the impression of a quick note from a friend, often reading:
“Hi! CNN says this is one of the best [link]”
“Hi! Have you already seen it? [link]”
The e-mails linked to “fake news” websites that were designed to appear as if an independent consumer reporter, rather than a paid advertiser, had reviewed and endorsed the product. The sites also included testimonials from consumers who purportedly had benefitted from the weight-loss products. The false testimonials promised weight loss like “4 lbs/week of belly fat” and “41.7lbs in 2.5 months.” According to the FTC’s complaint, these weight-loss claims are false and lack scientific support.
The sites also falsely represented that the products for sale had been featured or endorsed by Oprah Winfrey or the hosts of the television show “The Doctors.” These fake news websites then linked to other sites where consumers could purchase the defendants’ weight-loss products.
The defendants paid their affiliate marketers a commission whenever consumers clicked through from a fake news website to one of the defendants’ sites and bought their supplements, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that the defendants violated Sections 5 and 12 of the FTC Act, as well as the CAN-SPAM Act.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 3-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
NOTE: The Commission files 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 case will be decided by the court.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
Office of Public Affairs
FTC Midwest Region