Consumers Warned of Web-Based Açai Scams

For Immediate Release

Consumers Warned of Web-Based Açai Scams

Companies Use Fake Blogs, Fake Endorsements, Fishy Science, and Hard-to-Cancel Credit Card Transactions to Bilk Consumers

WASHINGTON - The Center for Science in the Public Interest
is warning consumers not to enroll online in supposedly free trials of
diet products made with the trendy Brazilian berry açai (pronounced
a-sigh-EE). There's no evidence whatsoever to suggest that açai pills
will help shed pounds, flatten tummies, cleanse colons, enhance sexual
desire, or perform any of the other commonly advertised functions. And
thousands of consumers have had trouble stopping recurrent charges on
their credit cards when they cancel their free trials.

Even web sites purporting to warn about açai-related scams are themselves perpetrating scams, according to CSPI.

"If
Bernard Madoff were in the food business, he'd be offering 'free'
trials of açai-based weight-loss products," said CSPI senior
nutritionist David Schardt, who authored an exposé of the scam in the April issue of CSPI's Nutrition Action Healthletter. "Law enforcement has yet to catch up to these rogue operators. Until they do, consumers have to protect themselves."

CSPI
says that if-despite the total lack of evidence that the product
works-you still want to take advantage of a "free" trial of açai, use a
prepaid credit card with a low credit limit or a virtual credit card
that shields your real credit card number from unscrupulous online
vendors. Visit the web site of the Better Business Bureau, which in January announced that it had received thousands of açai-related complaints.

Look for the BBB seal on e-commerce sites and click on the seal to confirm its legitimacy, CSPI advises.

Açai
began attracting attention in 2005 on the belief that its juice was
especially high in antioxidants. In truth, açai juice has only middling levels of antioxidants-less
than that of Concord grape, blueberry, and black cherry juices, but
more than cranberry, orange, and apple juices. Even so, the extent to
which antioxidants by themselves promote health is a matter of some
debate. No credible evidence suggests antioxidants promote weight loss.

In early 2008, Açai got a jolt of publicity when
Dr. Mehmet Oz included açai among tomatoes, blueberries, broccoli, and
other healthy foods in a segment on Oprah.
A guest on Rachael Ray also discussed an açai beverage. Since then, ads
on Google, Facebook, and major news media web sites have misleadingly
steered consumers to sites with names like Oprah-best-acai.com , OprahsAmazingDiet.com, DrOzMiracle.com, rachaelray.drozdiet-acaiberry.com
and dozens of others. OprahsAmazingDiet.com links to a blog post by a
woman who supposedly lost 57 pounds using Oprah-endorsed products, and
displays authoritative-looking biographies of Oprah and Dr. Oz. It then
links to an offer for AcaiBurn, sold by a company that lists an address
in Cyprus as its headquarters. Other sites link to FWM Laboratories of
Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood, Fla., which has an F rating from the
Better Business Bureau and scores of horror stories about it on Internet complaint forms.
Oprah Winfrey, Mehmet Oz, and Rachael Ray have all publicly
disassociated themselves from the açai sites that make unauthorized use
their names.

"When I logged on to my Hotmail account, I saw an
ad about how Oprah lost weight on this diet, and I enrolled in what I
thought would be a free trial," said M Chanel Pinkett, a graduate
student from Gaithersburg, Md. who signed up for a free trial at AcaiBerryDetox.com,
a site run by FWM Laboratories. Pinkett's "free" trial actually cost
$174.26. After posting a complaint on complaintsboard.com, which has
thousands of açai-related complaints, she told her story to
Washington's WJLA-TV.

"There are no magical berries from the Brazilian
rainforest that cure obesity-only painfully real credit card charges
and empty weight loss promises," said Connecticut Attorney General
Richard Blumenthal. "Aggressive Acai berry pitches on the Internet
entice countless consumers into free trials promising weight loss,
energy and detoxification. These claims are based on folklore,
traditional remedies and outright fabrications-unproven by real
scientific evidence. In reality, consumers lose more money than weight
after free trials transition into inescapable charges. We will
investigate these allegedly misleading or deceptive nutrition and
health claims and take action under our consumer protection statutes-as
we have done with other food products."

FWM Laboratories, Advanced Wellness Research, and
other acai companies benefit from dozens of fake diet blogs that steer
unsuspecting consumers to sites plugging free açai trials. The woman
depicted on Tara's Diet Blog, Olivia's Weight Loss blog, Alicia's Diet Blog, Becky's Weight Loss blog, and at least 75 other blogs is a German model named Julia
who has nothing to do with acai or any weight-loss product. The German
photographer who made the original photos of her available on
Istockphoto.com said the pill companies manipulated some of the "after"
images to give the impression of weight loss. The fake blogs were first
uncovered by a real blog, wafflesatnoon.com, written by an ad-industry
insider.

"These diet 'bloggers' are just a mirage,"
Schardt said. "Their weight loss is courtesy of Photoshop, not açai."
Other açai companies with F ratings from the BBB include Pure Acai
Berry Pro (Advanced Wellness Research), AcaiBurn, Acai Berry Maxx (FX
Supplements), and SFL Nutrition.

One of several online purchases of açai attempted
by CSPI was blocked when the fraud department of the credit card's
issuing bank called the group, flagging the charge as suspicious. The
reason? The funds would have been routed to an overseas bank.

Of course there's good reason why some Internet
supplement scammers might want to stay safely outside the U.S.: The
company behind Enzyte,
an herbal "male enhancement" pill advertised on late night television
with grating "Smiling Bob" commercials, similarly charged consumers'
credit cards after free trials ended. Company founder Steve Warshak is
now serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison.

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Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.

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