Ultra Acai Berry / Stole my money
Those "free" 14-day trial offers for "super food" diet supplements claiming celebrity endorsements may be too good to be true, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The bureau released a statement this January warning consumers to be wary of online sales offering acai berry-related weight loss products, saying the marketing of these products is often misleading. The bureau said it has received "thousands" of complaints from consumers about online sales of acai berry products.
In a scheme called "negative option" advertising, dozens of companies nationwide offer "free" trials of acai diet products, claiming endorsements from Oprah Winfrey, Rachael Ray and others, but then charge month after month unless the consumer cancels the order, according to the bureau.
"BBB [the Better Business Bureau] can't speak to the restorative or weight-loss properties of acai-based products, but we are taking companies to task for their misleading sales and marketing practices, " bureau spokesman Steve Cox said in a statement.
"Many businesses across the country are using the same selling model for their acai products: They lure customers in with claimed celebrity endorsements and free trial offers, and then lock them in by making it extremely difficult to cancel the automatic delivery of more acai products every month, " he said in the release.
The endorsements are also misleading, according to the bureau, and some lawyers representing those celebrities have already gone after these online companies.
"Consumers should be aware that Oprah Winfrey is not associated with nor does she endorse any acai berry product or online solicitation of such products. Attorneys for Harpo are pursuing any companies that claim such an affiliation, " said Don Halcombe, spokesman for Harpo Productions, Winfrey's production company. Rachael Ray has also complained to companies that falsely claim she has endorsed their products.
Consumers can check www.bbb.org to get a "reliability report" on particular companies before purchasing an online product.
"These companies are simply abusing general acai berry endorsements from well-known, trusted celebrities by using it as a tacit endorsement of their company and products specifically, " added the bureau's Cox.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expanding, for the second time, its nationwide alert to consumers about tainted weight loss products containing undeclared, active pharmaceutical ingredients.
The FDA has identified additional weight loss products (Herbal Xenicol, Slimbionic, and Xsvelten) and new undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients (fenproporex, fluoxetine, furosemide, and cetilistat).
"These tainted weight loss products pose a great risk to public health because they contain undeclared ingredients and, in some cases, contain prescription drugs in amounts that greatly exceed maximum recommended dosages, " said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Consumers have no way of knowing that these products contain dangerous drugs that could cause serious consequences to their health."
On Dec. 22, 2008, the FDA warned consumers not to purchase or consume 28 different products marketed for weight loss. On Jan. 8, 2009, the FDA expanded the list of tainted weight loss products to include 41 additional tainted products. The FDA will continue to update this list as warranted.
The products listed above, some of which are marketed as dietary supplements, are promoted and sold on various Web sites and in some retail stores and beauty salons. Some of the products claim to be "natural" or to contain only "herbal" ingredients, but actually contain potentially harmful ingredients not listed on the products' labels or in promotional advertisements. These products have not been approved by the FDA, are illegal, and include the following undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients:
fenproporex – a controlled substance not approved for marketing in the United States;
fluoxetine – an antidepressant available by prescription only;
bumetanide – a potent diuretic available by prescription only;
furosemide – a potent diuretic available by prescription only;
rimonabant – a drug not approved for marketing in the United States;
cetilistat – an experimental obesity drug not approved for marketing in the United States;
phenytoin – an anti-seizure medication available by prescription only; and
phenolphthalein – a solution used in chemical experiments and a suspected cancer-causing agent that is not approved for marketing in the United States.
The FDA has inspected a number of companies associated with the sale of these illegal products and is currently seeking product recalls. Based on the FDA's inspections and the companies' inadequate responses to recall requests, the FDA may take additional enforcement steps, such as issuing warning letters or initiating seizures, injunctions, or criminal charges.
The FDA advises consumers who have used any products containing these ingredients to stop taking them and consult their health care professional immediately. The FDA also encourages consumers to seek guidance from a health care professional before purchasing weight loss products.
The health risks posed by these products can be very serious and include high blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), palpitations, heart attack, and stroke. Sibutramine, a controlled substance, was found in many of these products at levels much higher than the maximum daily dosage for Meridia, the only FDA-approved drug product containing sibutramine. These higher levels of sibutramine can increase the incidence and severity of these health risks. Fenproporex, another controlled substance, can cause arrhythmia and possible sudden death.
Health care professionals and consumers should report serious adverse events (side effects) or product quality problems to the FDA's MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program either online, by regular mail, fax or phone.
Regular Mail: use postage-paid FDA form 3500 available at: www.fda.gov/MedWatch/getforms.htm and mail to MedWatch, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD [protected]
Fax: 800- FDA-0178
Phone: 800- FDA-1088