Too good to be true: Ab Circle Pro marketers charged with making fraudulent claims

Lose 10 pounds in two weeks with just three minutes of exercise per day? Not with the Ab Circle Pro, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A recent ruling against the direct-to-consumer product serves as a warning to the industry against outlandish results claims, but it might also benefit specialty fitness retailers.
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Lose 10 pounds in two weeks with just three minutes of exercise per day? Not with the Ab Circle Pro, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC recently filed charges against the marketers of abdominal exerciser Ab Circle Pro for deceptive advertising claims in infomercials that ran between March 2009 and May 2010. The marketers of the direct-to-consumer infomericial product have been ordered to pay customers back millions due to the false claims.

The ruling serves as a warning to the fitness industry that the FTC is watching out for marketing claims that are too good to be true, officials said.

“The FTC reminds marketers that they should think twice before promising a silver-bullet solution to a health problem – whether it involves losing weight or curing cancer,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Weight loss is hard work, and telling consumers otherwise is deceptive.”

But the recent ruling also could stand to benefit specialty fitness retailers, especially since, in this case, the punishment comes against a direct-to-consumer campaign. Fitness retailers should remind their customers they are there to vet out such outlandish claims and products.

The marketers claimed that on the device, people would get the same workout as 100 sit-ups, or a 30-minute alternative abdominal exercise, in just three minutes a day, leading to a 10-pound weight loss in just two weeks. The Ab Circle Pro was generally purchased for anywhere between $200 and $250.

According to a statement, the FTC files complaints “when it has ‘reason to believe’ that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law.”

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on August 22, 2012, names as defendants Fitness Brands, Inc., Fitness Brands International, Inc., (controlled by Michael Casey and David Brodess); Direct Holdings Americas, Inc. and Direct Entertainment Media Group, Inc.; infomercial producer Tara Borakos and two companies she controls, Tara Productions Inc. and New U, Inc.; and Jennifer Nicole Lee and two companies she controls, JNL, Inc. and JNL Worldwide, Inc.

All companies except Lee’s, are charged with making misleading claims to consumers and under thesettlements, and each charged was ordered to pay back consumers. The defendants have agreed to pay settlements up to $25 million – and at least $15 million – depending on the volume of refunds requested by customers. The Fitness Brands, Inc. defendants will pay $1.2 million; Direct Holdings Americas, Inc., Direct Entertainment Media Group, Inc., and relief defendant Reader’s Digest will pay $13.8 million – and up to $10 million more, depending on the volume of refund requests.

If any of your customers bought one of these from an infomercial, or any store that has an “As Seen on TV” section, they can file request a refund here.

The settlements bar the Fitness Brands, Inc. defendants from providing others with the means to make any of the representations prohibited above.

--Ana Trujillo

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