Published on July 1st, 20140
Misleading Health Claims about Vemma Still Flood Web
How do we know? We conducted the search. Why is it a problem? It violates FTC deceptive advertising laws designed to protect the unknowing consumer.
Last week, TINA.org brought this issue to the attention of Vemma CEO Benson K. Boreyko, who, under a 1999 FTC consent order, cannot allow his company to make health claims without “competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the representation.”
Elizabeth Lordan, a spokeswoman for the FTC, said in an email that each violation of a consent order “may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.”
Overtime needed for compliance department?
Boreyko said in an email to TINA.org that affiliates of his multimillion-dollar business (of which there are hundreds of thousands) are prohibited from making any medical or drug claims when they pitch the Vemma product. He added that Vemma has a compliance department that deals with “these types of violations.”
“I am personally very troubled by what has apparently transpired,” Boreyko said in the email. “…I have asked several key executives here to look into not only this matter, but our entire approach to compliance.”
While company execs probe the health claims, a quick search shows dozens of websites and online videos are still out there on the Internet. Some have been taken down since we broke this story last week but at least three dozen remain. (See full list below.)
One apparent affiliate blog — which has been on the Internet since 2008 — titled “Vemma / The Big Picture,” labels Vemma as “the product that provides the single highest source of nutrition.” The blog also says “…Vemma provides the powerful ability to prevent illness and disease in the first place and to slow down the process of existing illness and disease.”
The blog attempts to sell an ingredient in the Vemma product — mangosteen — as a panacea for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis, among other ailments. But lacking any appropriate scientific evidence, those claims run afoul of FTC laws.
Impossible to control?
In a July 31 email to TINA.org, Boreyko said that while 27 of the 36 websites and online videos we found to be in violation of the FTC consent order have been removed, “it’s impossible to stop or control the posting of videos.” He said that often “affiliates are unaware that they were violating a policy.”
Boreyko added that six people were suspended and three were terminated as a result of the websites and online videos that touted unsubstantiated health claims about the Vemma product. He said fines approaching $200,000 have been levied since TINA.org brought the violations to light.
Websites of top affiliates pulled
Tom and Bethany Alkazin have made millions as ambassadors for the Arizona-based company. Through their Roadmap to Success workbooks, the couple has trained a legion of some 200,000-plus affiliates.
But following the publication of TINA.org’s story last week, some of the websites referred to in those workbooks as required reading have either been partially modified or pulled from the web completely.
TINA.org reached out to Tom Alkazin for comment, but he had not returned an email query as of Tuesday.
But visit the URLs for vmastories.com or vmatools.com, and all you’ll find now is a blank page marked “Forbidden.” The vmastories.com website contained more than 100 written testimonials that championed Vemma as a cure for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Crohn’s disease, autism, ADD, psoriasis, and other illnesses.
The vmastories.com website appeared in the Alkazins 2011 workbook but not the 2014 edition. However, Tom Alkazin cited the website in an October 2013 conference call with affiliates (listen to it above, reference is made shortly after the 10-minute mark).
An audio file of that call had been posted on myroadmaptosuccess.com (another website mentioned in the Alkazin workbooks) but was pulled last week when two tabs were removed from the website.
Doctors video just removed
You would think doctors wouldn’t have been making health claims that were not backed by sufficient scientific studies, but Dr. John Edwards has been. One YouTube video showing Edwards making health claims was just removed Tuesday morning.
In the video, Edwards pointed to the health benefits of mangosteen as the overriding reason you need to hop on the Vemma bandwagon ASAP.
“Based on what we’ve seen from a medical standpoint, as a physician, as a researcher of mangosteen of 10 years, trust me, if there’s one thing I know, it’s mangosteen, inside and out,” Edwards said to a crowd gathered in what appeared to be a living room. “I’m telling you if you have doubts about this product … people don’t think … they need you to think.”
TINA.org has amassed a list of 36 websites and online videos containing unsubstantiated health claims related to Vemma. We’ve notified the FTC but also invite you to help in the policing. Let us know when we can cross one off the list.
UPDATE 7/21/15: Vemma notified TINA.org that it had terminated Dr. John Edward’s distributorship on July 15.
Vemma Nutrition Company is a privately held multi-level marketing company that sells energy drinks, nutritional beverages and weight management products. Vemma, which calls itself an affiliate marketing company, is based in Tempe, Arizona. It was founded in 2004 by Benson K. Boreyko and his sisters. Vemma is an acronym for vitamins, essential minerals, mangosteen and aloe.