U.S. Persists in Crackdown on Internet Health-Care Fraud

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Thursday it has brought enforcement actions against six companies for making false claims about health products sold over the Internet.

Five of the companies agreed to settle the charges, and the FTC is pursuing the sixth case in U.S. District Court. The cases involve the hormonal supplement DHEA, St. John’s Wort, colloidal silver and other products the companies allegedly claimed could treat or cure cancer, AIDS, arthritis and other conditions.

The FTC said the new cases, part of a coordinated effort with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and state attorneys general, are the fourth set of actions taken in its “Operation Cure All” ongoing crackdown on the sale of unproven health products over the Internet.

Charged Firms Span U.S.

Panda Herbal International of Bensalem, Pennsylvania; ForMor of Conway, Arkansas; MaxCell BioScience of in Broomfield, Colorado; Aaron Co. of Palm Bay, Florida; and Jaguar Enterprises of Mesquite, Texas, all agreed to settle the FTC complaints filed against their companies. According to the settlement terms, the companies are revising their advertising pitches and offering consumers refunds on the products addressed by the challenges.

The FTC said its case against the sixth company, Western Dietary Products of Blaine, Washington, is being pursued in U.S. District Court in Seattle. The commission said it is charging the company and its owners, Marvin and Miguelina Beckwith, with making unsubstantiated claims about herbal products and the treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, arthritis and HIV.

‘Compelling but Deceptive’

“Many of the Web sites targeted today are jeopardizing the health and safety of consumers with outlandish promises and false hope,” said FTC Chairman Timothy J. Maris.

“Unfortunately, examples of questionable products being peddled on the Web abound, and the Federal Trade Commission, with its partners, will step up its efforts to protect consumers from these compelling but deceptive health claims,” said Maris.

The FTC is pairing its enforcement crackdown with a consumer education campaign.

E-Mail Warnings

The FTC and FDA also said that e-mail warnings were sent to 48 Web sites that marketed colloidal silver as a cure for, or guard against, serious diseases in violation of federal rules governing drug marketing. According to the federal agencies those warnings resulted in 27 percent of the sites removing or changing their claims.

The agencies also said they have warned companies selling “Rife Frequency Generators” or “Zappers,” devices that purportedly send electrical energy into the body to destroy parasites and/or disease-causing cells. Most of the warned companies have removed or modified their Web sites, the FTC said.

Warnings involving aristolochic acid, a substance found in some herbal medicines, have also been sent to manufacturers and marketers, the FTC said. According to the FDA, aristolochic acid poses “significant health risks,” including cancer and kidney problems.

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