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Dietary Supplements Companies Settle Unfair Trade Practices Claims
November 21, 2011
AUGUSTA – Attorney General William J. Schneider announced today that the State reached an agreement with Maine acai supplement LLCs Grapevine, Great Berry, Vitality, and 3V Marketing and their managers Ryan E. Dall and Eric R. Crouse (Grapevine) to settle allegations of unfair trade practices.
A complaint and consent decree were filed in Kennebec County Superior Court on November 16, 2011, resolving claims that Grapevine violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act with internet marketing sales using “free” or “risk free” offers that were misleading and deceptive.
The complaint alleges that in 2009, Grapevine marketed and sold the dietary supplements Certified Acai and Acai Advanced to consumers using the “free” or “risk free” trial offers. The supplements purportedly contained 750 to 900 milligrams of a proprietary blend of ingredients, including acai berry extract. According to packaging materials and internet advertising, use of the Acai Advanced and Certified Acai products would result in rapid and substantial weight loss. The acai berry was represented as the “#1 Super Food” that provides many health benefits including supporting the immune system, improving digestion, reducing pain and soreness, promoting healthy sleep, increasing energy, stamina and libido, fighting cancer and disease, lowering blood pressure and fighting aging and inflammation.
According to the “free” or “risk free” promotion, consumers could try the product for 15 days and if not completely satisfied receive a “30-day money back guarantee.” The consumer would pay only a nominal charge for shipping and handling.
By requesting the “free” or “risk free” trial, consumers were actually enrolled in a recurring “Healthy Lifestyles Program” with automatic monthly shipments of the product. Many consumers complained about discovering unauthorized charges on their credit card accounts for the additional monthly shipment charges, typically $64.95 plus $9.95 shipping and handling per month. By that time, consumers had often been charged the full price for the “free” or “risk free” trial shipment as well as for the second shipment plus a shipping and handling fee.
In many instances, requests for refunds were refused even if consumers returned or offered to return the unopened product.
As part of the “free” or “risk free” offer, consumers were automatically signed up for a trial membership in the “Live Lean for Life” weight loss management plan as a “free gift.” Numerous consumers did not expect to be charged for an additional product that they did not order, and many were unaware that they had to take affirmative steps to cancel the trial membership to avoid being charged an additional $24.95 each month.
“Even sophisticated consumers can be caught by deceptive advertising,” said Attorney General Schneider. “Merchants are required by the Unfair Trade Practices Act to be truthful in claims about their products. This settlement will contribute to ensuring fairness in the marketplace in Maine.”
According to the consent judgment, Grapevine agreed to a permanent injunction that prohibits them from making any weight loss or health claim in connection with the marketing or sale of any product without having competent and objective scientific evidence to substantiate the claim at the time that it is made. Other provisions of the injunction include restrictions on the future marketing and sale of any product or service through the use of a free or risk free trial offer. In addition, Grapevine will pay $5,000 for the costs of investigation related to the resolution of these claims.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Silsby of Attorney General Schneider’s Consumer Protection Division.