Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched Operation Big Fat Lie, a nation-wide law enforcement sweep against six companies allegedly making false weight-loss claims in national advertisements. Operation Big Fat Lie is the latest in the FTC’s efforts to stop deceptive advertising and provide refunds to consumers harmed by unscrupulous weight-loss advertisers; encourage media outlets not to carry advertisements containing bogus weight-loss claims; and educate consumers to be on their guard against companies promising miraculous weight loss without diet or exercise.

Companies named in the complaints are Selfworx.com LLC (for its gel•ä•thin, a topical gel; and Ultra LipoLean, a dietary supplement tablet described as a “fat blocker), Femina Inc. (for its 1-2-3 Reduce Fat, a three-part kit; Siluette Patch, a transdermal patch made from pure seaweed; and Fat Seltzer Reduce, a dietary supplement), CHK Trading Co. Inc. (for its Hanmeilin Cellulite Cream, a topical cream that contains Chinese herbs and other all-natural ingredients), Natural Products (for its dietary supplement called Bio Trim, Body-Trim/Bio-Trim or Body-Trim, which are sold in capsule and powder form), New England Diet Center (for its Chinese Diet Tea and the Bio-Slim Patch), and AVS Marketing Inc. (for its Himalayan Diet Breakthrough, a dietary supplement containing Nepalese Mineral Pitch).

Complaints in each of the six cases allege that defendants used at least one of the seven bogus weight-loss claims that are part of the FTC’s “Red Flag” education campaign announced in December 2003. That ongoing Red Flag campaign provides guidance to assist media outlets in voluntarily screening out weight-loss ads that contain claims that are too good to be true.

“False and misleading advertisements are about as credible as a note from the Tooth Fairy,” said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. “As part of our ‘no tolerance’ policy, we are announcing six new cases against advertisers using bogus weight loss claims. By also working with media outlets to reject false ads and educating consumers to make informed choices, the FTC hopes to keep this national obesity epidemic from getting worse.”

The companies are accused of making false claims for a variety of products, including pills, powders, green tea, topical gels, and diet patches. The FTC alleges in each case that the weight-loss claims are false and that the defendants did not have adequate substantiation for the claims they made. The challenged ads ran in nationally known publications. In each of these cases, the FTC is seeking to stop the bogus ads and to secure redress for consumers. In addition to the cases announced today, the Commission has filed lawsuits against seven other companies since April 2004 for making similarly false Red Flag weight-loss claims.

In addition, the Maine Attorney General’s Office filed an additional weight loss enforcement action in Maine state court against a diet patch seller from that state. The defendant in that case made false claims for two weight-loss products – Slim Patch and Bodylite Gel Patch. The ads appeared in advertising carried in newspapers across the United States.