Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

One cure for miracle claims: Jail

By Joanne Ikeda

In the late 1990’s a full page ad for “SlimAmerica” appeared in the Oakland Tribune.  The ad claimed that major Universities had been involved in the development of a new, incredibly effective weight loss drug that caused “the fat to melt off your body like an ice cube melts on a sweltering hot August day.”   I sent a letter of complaint stating that the claims in the ad could not be substantiated to the newspaper as well as to the Federal Trade Commission, never expecting to hear from either.  Months later I was contacted by an FTC attorney telling me they were going to prosecute the company for consumer fraud.  He asked me to serve as an unpaid consultant to them on this case, and I readily agreed.

I have seen the public duped over and over again by con men selling fraudulent weight loss products.  The most egregious claim was for weight loss pants – you put them on, then hook them up to your vacuum cleaner and the fat is sucked out of your body!  There are weight loss inserts for shoes, weight loss earring and bracelets, even weight loss shorts!  And of course there are numerous pills, powders, and potions that supposedly cause weight loss unaccompanied by any changes in eating or activity patterns.

I have often asked myself, why is the public so gullible?  Have they forgotten everything they were taught in school about how the human body works?    The con man who ran the SlimAmerica scam made well over $17 million charging $49.99 for a month’s supply.  The judge took 2 years to make a decision in that case, and although he ruled in favor of the FTC, he slapped the hands of the defendant and told him not to do it again.  But yesterday, I found out he turned around and immediately ran another scam that made him $7 million.  This time the judge wasn’t so lenient – he got a 20 year jail sentence!