Published on May 14th, 20130
Can’t Keep a Bad Ad Man Down
By Miriam Kelliher
What do the Ab Force Belt, Sable Hair Farming System, and Coral Calcium have in common? They were all marketed and sold in infomercials by Federal Trade Commission repeat offenders —hucksters who ran afoul of federal advertising laws not once, not twice, but in some cases more than three times. According to the FTC, they lie about their products, hide their assets, and violate court orders, yet they remain on the television landscape, popping up again and again to bilk the purchasing public like a Whack-a-Mole rodent that just won’t stay down.
AS SEEN ON TV: DO NOTHING, LOSE WEIGHT!
Take, for instance, Ajit Khubani, head of Telebrands, Corp., which specializes in on-air marketing of low-cost gizmos. In 2001 and 2002, he ran infomercials for the Ab Force belt, an exercise contraption that purportedly used electrical impulses to help the wearer shape up and lose weight. After more than 700,000 belts were sold with gross sales exceeding $19 million, the FTC stepped in with a complaint in 2003 to stop what it said were false claims about the belt’s effectiveness. Khubani fought the FTC charges for more than five years, finally agreeing in 2009 to a $7 million settlement.
The FTC sent out the last of the refund checks for $17.89 — which represented 90 percent of the price consumers paid for it — to purchasers in late 2010.
Khubani, the guru of “As Seen on TV’ gizmos, had gotten into trouble with the FTC before. He paid more than $900,000 in the 1990s to settle charges that he made false claims about an antenna and hearing aid he sold, as well as failing to provide refunds, cancel purchases, and ship products on time.
Interviewed in USA Today after the settlement in 2009, Khubani said he “strongly disagreed” with the FTC’s charges of false and deceptive advertising in the Ab Force belt case and that his settlement with the agency was “a practical business decision.” He said that his run-ins with the FTC had caused him to be especially conscientious about his ads going forward.
But fear not gadget fans, Khubani’s marketing machine turns out low-tech, must-have products unabated, making available for your purchasing pleasure such gems as the Windshield Wonder, a microfiber cloth that cleans car windows, and Lint Lizard, which clears that troublesome lint from dryers. Telebrands is also marketing a new “As Seen on TV’’ weight loss belt called the Slim Away with “evapowrap fabric,” which it claims induces weight loss through sweat.
If you believe the late-night ads, the nutrient is a ‘cure’ for a wide range of serious diseases, including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease
Federal government agency charged with enforcing various consumer protection laws and overseeing identity-theft related matters. Information on the FTC’s identity theft programs can be found at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.