In the first case of its kind, the Federal Trade Commission took action against a diet pill seller for both making false claims and paying to juice their standing on Amazon with fake positive reviews.
The fruit of garcinia cambogia has been hailed by some as a powerful weight loss supplement. Of course, there’s no conclusive scientific evidence to support this—although there is some indication that in rare cases it may lead to liver failure, which led the FDA to issue a notice about a product containing the active ingredient—which is why most purveyors of junk diet pills tend to make their efficacy claims vague. Cure Encapsulations, which the FTC ruled against yesterday, had no such modesty, instead stating that the extract in question “Literally BLOCKS FAT From Forming.”
What differentiates this from every other fake weight loss panacea fiasco is that Naftula Jacobowitz, the owner/operator of Cure Encapsulations, “paid a website, amazonverifiedreviews.com, to create and post Amazon reviews of their product,” according to the FTC—demanding his products retain an average rating of 4.3 stars. As the world’s largest ecommerce marketplace, Amazon has become ground zero for cutthroat tactics in achieving greater product visibility—among which fake reviews are a well-worn method. According to one Pew Research study, the majority of Americans sometimes check online reviews, though only around half believe they’re trustworthy.
Unsurprisingly, Jacobowitz was previously sued by another Amazon seller in 2016 for, among other things submitting “false negative feedback and/or other false complaints to Amazon.com,” which the plaintiff claimed caused her to lose the coveted Amazon ‘Buy Box,’ a piece of screen real estate associated with higher sales. (The case was settled via permanent injunction in September of 2016.)
Amazon itself has taken legal action over the years on multiple occasions against entities abusing its review system, but this case marks the first time the FTC has involved itself in these matters. “We welcome the FTC’s work in this area. Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers,” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo. “Even one inauthentic review is one too many.”
Recommended in the ruling, and pending judgment in New York’s Eastern District Court, are a variety of stipulations against Jacobowitz’s Cure Encapsulations. His company would be required to notify prior customers of the claims against it and identify the paid reviews for Amazon. The company would also no longer be able to make “weight-loss, appetite-suppression, fat-blocking, or disease-treatment claims” about products without “reliable scientific evidence in the form of human clinical testing,” and face a largely suspended fine of $12.8 million.
Updated with comment from Amazon