August 20, 2009
CHICAGO—Acai may provide super nutrition, but it doesn’t make its marketers impervious to injury. In the latest salvo, the Illinois Attorney General filed consumer fraud lawsuits against three suppliers and a local marketer of acai berry products, even as Oprah Winfrey’s corporate firm filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against 40 Internet marketers of dietary supplements, including many selling acai berry products.
The attorney general, Lisa Madigan, filed three lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging the companies lure customers with free trial offers, and then charge consumers’ credit cards prematurely, do not always supply the product as promised and make it challenging to cancel the orders. Dietary supplement marketers named were Advanced Wellness Research, Netalab, Crush LLC and TMP Nevada Inc.; a third complaint targets Amirouche & Norton LLC, an online affiliate marketer. The lawsuits are seeking permanent injunctions from selling dietary supplements or conducting misleading marketing schemes that impact Illinois consumers; and request consumer restitution and civil penalties of $50,000.
“The acai berry supplement sales programs are among the most aggressive that we have seen using misleading sales tactics to scam consumers,” Madigan said. “Consumers should always be skeptical and educate themselves instead of blindly believing any endorsement claims.”
The attorney general’s office worked in concert with Harpo Inc., the producers of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” to investigate consumer complaints into the marketing practices of Internet marketing companies, including those named in the Attorney General’s complaint. Further, Harpo Inc. filed a federal trademark infringement suit against 40 dietary supplement marketing companies, alleging Internet marketers are using her name without permission. Marc Rachman, an attorney for Harpo, told the Chicago Tribune that Internet marketers started selling acai products with implications that they had been endorsed by Winfrey or Dr. Mehmet Oz, after Oz touted acai’s nutritional benefits on an episode of Winfrey’s show.
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