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5 Products With Overhyped Health Claims

Shoes that tone legs. Skin creams that induce weight loss. Drinks that fight off colds. Consumers get bombarded with advertisements that sound too good to be true. But Federal regulators say they often can’t intervene until customers start complaining.

In the latest such case, shoe company Skechers USA agreed to pay $40 million to settle the Federal Trade Commission’s deceptive marketing charges. Skechers said some of its sneakers would help wearers tone up and lose weight — a claim the FTC says the company backed up in its ads with faulty studies. Skechers denies any wrongdoing and maintains, according to a statement, that the advertisements were appropriate. The company says it chose to settle these claims to avoid extended legal proceedings. The settlement comes eight months after Reebok agreed to pay $25 million for similar marketing of its toning shoes.

These latest cases are part of an FTC crackdown on advertisements that overstate the health benefits of products. Such tactics have become more common as consumers increasingly look for ways to buy their way to better health, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action, a consumer advocacy group.

Experts say the problem stems from a lack of oversight. Unlike new drugs, which must be proven to be effective in clinical trials, most consumer products fall under the radar. Regulators have to play catch up, says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group. Betsy Lordan, a spokeswoman for the FTC, says there’s no required independent review of retail and other consumer products, like many cosmetics and creams. Instead, the FTC has to seek out deceptive advertisements, she says.

To find these cases, the FTC depends on the consumer complaints it receives about products that don’t work as they’re advertised, says Lordan, in addition to complaints from companies about their competitors. It also monitors online ads for claims that can’t be substantiated, she says.

Consumers who buy a product and find it doesn’t work as advertised should consider contacting the company first, says Sherry. (There’s usually a toll-free number on the packaging.) Customers who express their dissatisfaction may get a refund, she says. In some cases products can be returned to the store, but consumers may be hard-pressed to find retailer willing to take back used sneakers. They can also contact the FTC with their complaints.

Even when the FTC gets the companies to settle, consumers do not always receive refunds, the agency says. This typically happens when it’s impractical to track down the customers, or the dollar amounts involved are too small, Lordan says. But when refunds are up for grabs – as they are in the Skechers case — consumers can file their application for a refund with the FTC. There’s no guarantee that they’ll get the entire amount they paid for the product, says Jon Miller Steiger, a regional director at the FTC. The amount depends partly on how many consumers file for a refund, he says: The smaller the number, the greater the chance of being fully reimbursed.

Here are four recent instances where the FTC accused major brands of deceptive marketing.



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Comments (5 of 8)

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    • FCC needs to go after the high fructose corn syrup manufacturers running the ads that claim your body can’t tell sugars apart. In fact fructose is metabolized differently than other sugars, so this is a lie.

    • Nothing to say about homeopathy?

    • I find it very funny that the first commet here is another fraudulent ad. For those of you that only counted 4 products you should read the whole article instead of just looking at the headlines. The fifth product is a pair of shoes made by Skechers USA. It is discussed in depth on the first page starting with the second paragraph.

    • wonder why they hven’t gone after MBT? They make the same health claims. I had two pairs that disintegrated after 3 months – theyreplaced the first pair, but said the second pair’s style had been discontinued and wouildn’t give a refund. Hope they get sued big time

    • You could only find five? Or was it four. You sure didn’t look very hard.

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