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In Lawsuit, FTC Challenges HCG Weight-Loss Products Endorsed by Carmen Electra

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PHOENIXThe sultry Carmen Electra contends the weight-loss product HCG Platinum is her "secret to keeping slim, sleek, and sexy."

Federal regulators deem such a secret a fallacy.

A lawsuit filed today in Arizona by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claims Kevin Wright of Bluffdale, Utah-based HCG Platinum, LLC has endangered and hoodwinked consumers for years, earning millions of dollars based on unsubstantiated weight-loss claims that typically cost buyers between $60 and $149 for a thirty-day supply of the formulations.  

According to the government, the productsconsisting of two homeopathic and one dietary supplement formulation for weight lossrecommend that consumers take them with a diet of only 500 to 800 calories daily. Such a low-calorie diet can increase the risk of side effects including electrolyte imbalance, gallstone formation and heart arrhythmias, regulators have said.

At the heart of the complaint is HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone that the human placenta produces and that has been marketed for weight-loss claims for decades.

"Consumers should be skeptical of advertisements that tout HCG as a weight-loss treatment," the FTC cautioned in a news release today.

In a Nov. 28, 2011 letter, FTC and FDA warned Wright that HCG's products were not homeopathic drugs, rendering them unapproved drugs in violation of the Federal, Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The agencies also advised Wright that unless he "possessed competent and reliable evidence", his weight-loss claims were illegal under the FTC Act.

In the lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, FTC is seeking a permanent injunction and an order requiring Wright and other defendants to cough up all "ill-gotten monies". HCG and the other defendants named in the complaint have sold more than $13 million in products since 2010, according to the FTC.

The lawsuit also has named as defendants several individuals who received funds from the sales of HCG but played no role in the alleged deception.

"Marketers that sell product claiming those products cause substantial weight loss must have a competent and reliable basis for making those claims," James Prunty, FTC staff attorney who is lead counsel in the case, said in an emailed statement to INSIDER. "When consumers waste their money on expensive products that do not work and put their faith in these products instead of seeking medical attention or focusing on diet and exercise, they risk health consequences."

Unless the FTC and defendants can reach an agreement, a federal judge will rule on the government's claims. Prunty said there is no right to a jury trial in the case. 

Wright did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

"We are happy to see FTC take action against companies that continue to break the law and deceive consumers," said Rend Al-Mondhiry, regulatory counsel for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the Washington, D.C.-based trade organization representing dietary supplement manufacturers and ingredient suppliers.

FTC contends HCG Platinum and another defendant affiliated with Wright, Right Way Nutrition, Inc., promise consumers they will lose rapid and substantial weight and that their weight loss is likely to resemble the results of endorsers such as Electra, the former Playboy model and TV and film personality.

One testimonial cited by the FTC states, "I have lost 127 pounds using the HCG Platinum plan This product works beyond my wildest dreams."

Prunty contends the defendants' weight-loss promises are empty ones. There "is no competent and reliable evidence that those products cause any weight loss at all," he said.

The weight-loss products are sold through major retail outlets including GNC, Rite Aid and Walgreens. HCG Platinum and Right Way Nutrition also conduct sales through their websites, the FTC said.   

According to today's prevailing science, diet and exercise are crucial to maintaining a healthy weight; regulators and others have said weight-loss supplements alone cannot substitute for hard work and responsible nutrition. But the FTC is still finding statements that imply otherwise. 

One of the testimonials cited in the lawsuit declares: "I don't really like to exercise, it's hard to get it in when I am a stay at home mom I did HCG and lost 10 to 15 pounds in 30 days."

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