The Federal Trade Commission is returning about $2 million to customers who were mislead by a weight-loss product company, thanks to a settlement between the FTC and the Pennsylvania company.
NutriMost claimed its “NutriMost Ultimate Fat Loss System” helps people lose 20 to 40 pounds in 40 days and can treat or cure diseases such as diabetes, all without a restrictive diet, using special technology and personalized dietary supplements.
Jon M. Steiger, director of the East Central region of the FTC and a member of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike, said the agency became aware of NutriMost’s claims via ads in a few publications, which he said had red flags.
“There are two ways that we can say that a company is engaged in deceptive practices,” Steiger said. “One is if we know that what they’re saying is false. The other is if they can’t support their statements. So any company that’s advertising needs to have appropriate support for any advertising claims that it’s making.”
Steiger said the FTC filed the lawsuit and the settlement at the same time, as it had reached a settlement ahead of time with the company’s owner, Raymond Wisniewski, and his companies NutriMost LLC and NutriMost Doctors, LLC.
He also said the individual franchisees of NutriMost were not directly involved in this suit, and therefore the $2 million will go to customers who purchased through NutriMost LLC or NutriMost Doctors LLC. Steiger said if a customer paid for the NutriMost system through a franchisee and was unhappy, he would encourage the customer to file a complaint at FTC.gov or reach out to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and file a complaint.
Dana Barragate, a staff attorney at the FTC and the lead attorney on the NutriMost case, said advertising claims relating to health and safety were of particular concern to the FTC, so the agency contacted NutriMost directly to see what support they had for their claims.
“We reached out to them and it resulted in a settlement, so I think it’s fair to say that there was a dialogue,” Barragate said. “If they had not been cooperative, perhaps we would have just moved forward without a settlement and simply filing a complaint.”
Barragate said the FTC was waiting for NurtiMost to provide the agency with updated customer information, but expected the number of customers that will receive money from the settlement to be in the thousands.
Steiger said an important aspect of the suit was the claim that NutriMost was using misleading testimonials, which he said is something one would often see, especially in weight loss company cases.
“They’ll say ‘Joe Smith lost 20 pounds,’ but with this company, what they didn’t tell you was that Joe Smith actually was a franchisee, so he had a business relationship, this wasn’t a disinterested consumer claiming to have lost 20 pounds. This was someone who actually had a business relationship with the defendant,” Steiger said. “When a company is using a testimonial, they need to disclose when there’s an important connection between the person giving the testimonial and the company. We think that consumers would find it very important when looking at someone who claims to have lost 30 pounds to know that, in fact, they’re being paid by the company.”
In general, Barragate advised consumers to be cautious when looking at advertisements to avoid being mislead.
“When they see an ad where a company is making claims that may sound a little too good to be true, take a step back,” she said. “Claims about 20 to 40 pounds in 40 days and making claims that you don’t have to change your diet and you don’t have to exercise and you can target your weight loss and you can have permanent weight loss, those are really the types of claims that should raise a red flag for consumers.”
Steiger advised consumers to take their time and do their research.
“Before you deal with a company, look them up online, see if there are any complaints, look them up on the (Better Business Bureau), see what the experiences there are, talk to friends and family,” he said. “Because with these companies, they try to get you to act quickly and not take the time to think through what it is they’re claiming.”