Feds shut down diet supplement "fraud trifecta"

An operation that allegedly peppered consumers with spam emails pitching unproven diet supplements with fake celebrity endorsements was shut down by the Federal Trade Commission, the agency said on Monday.

California-based Sale Slash since 2012 pitched the supposed weight-loss benefits of such products as premium green coffee, garcinia cambogia and white kidney bean extract, the FTC said. Oprah Winfrey was among the celebrities used to help make the products appear legitimate.

In addition, the FTC said Sale Slash created phony news sites to make the endorsements appear credible. Millions of emails were sent to consumers, the FTC said, and still more people were drawn in by banner ads on websites pitching the products.

A temporary restraining order includes a freeze of the company's assets and the appointment of a receiver to oversee the operation as the case progresses. The FTC said its goal is to get money from the company and refund it to consumers who bought the pills.

"Sale Slash is a fraud trifecta," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "The company made outlandish weight-loss claims for its diet pills using fake news sites, phony celebrity endorsements, and millions of unwanted spam emails."

The company was accused of violating federal laws that protect consumers from misleading and dishonest product claims and from being subjected to spam emails. The FTC warned consumers to consider the source of information when looking at what might appear to be a news website.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.