Three people behind what is being described as “a vast network” of online scammers have agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, over charges that all pushed more than three dozen health products through the use of fake news websites, phony celebrity “testimonials” and unproven health promises. The products included supplements and other items for weight-loss, muscle-building, and wrinkle-reduction.
In its suit, FTC accuses Richard Fowler, Ryan Fowler and Nathan Martinez of using what the agency called “deceptive” offers to hawk products through 19 different companies. Customers were offered free, risk-free trials but were then, without their permission, automatically enrolled in what are called negative option auto-ship programs.
Some of the products were peddled through websites that were allegedly designed to mimic the appearance of legitimate magazine and news sites like Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Good Health. Many were accompanied by bogus celebrity endorsements from Mehmet Oz, Paula Deen and others.
It is estimated that their schemes netted Richard Fowler, Ryan Fowler and Nathan Martinez around $179 million in about five years and that is what the court ordered they return. But that judgement will be “suspended” if they pony up just a fraction of that amount–about $6.4 million–and promise to play nicely from now on.
Late last week the FTC announced that it was in the process of mailing out nearly 228,000 checks to people who fell for the scams.