FTC SUES SHOPPING NETWORK QVC OVER AD CLAIMS

Says Weight-Loss Products Being Sold Are Bogus

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to levy a hefty fine against Liberty Media's shopping network QVC for selling weight-loss products such as Zero Fat, a pill that supposedly slows fat absorption in the body.

In the suit filed by the Justice Department

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on behalf of the FTC, the FTC seeks fines of more than $11,000 per violation. The suit asks the court to determine the number of violations. It also seeks a refund to consumers. An FTC official said the fines could top the more than $1.1 million the Home Shopping Network paid in 1999 to settle a similar case.

Violating earlier settlement
The FTC is accusing the nation's biggest shopping channel of repeatedly violating an earlier settlement in which QVC agreed not to make "false and unsubstantiated claims" for its products. In the new action, QVC is accused of making false and unsubstantiated claims "For Women Only" weight-loss products, and for making unsubstantiated claims for supplement products under the Lite Bites name and royal jelly dietary supplements under the Bee-Alive name.

In 2000, QVC settled an FTC case by agreeing to have "competent and reliable scientific evidence" for dietary supplement claims.

The FTC didn't specify an exact dollar amount for the fines, but the suit says penalties should be based on each time a QVC program made a product representation. Several of the products have been sold since 2000 and the product features were promoted repeatedly during each selling segment.

Getting tough on media
Many media outlets, especially magazines and TV, run ads or infomercials from marketers selling what the government says are bogus diet and weight loss products. While the FTC had warned it might act against media companies if they didn't do a better job of screening obviously phony ad claims, QVC wasn't running an ad for some other marketer -- it was the product marketer.

The weight-loss products were pitched during live broadcast segments featuring spokespeople touting how well the products worked. The suit said consumers were told they could lose more than 100 pounds using the products and keep the weight off.

Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said despite the agreement, QVC continued selling products without substantiation.

'Scientifically impossible'
"QVC's claims for these products are not only unsubstantiated, but for some, scientifically impossible," Mr. Beales said. "No pill or drink can cause anyone to lose 125 pounds. QVC didn't keep its promise to use sound science and solid evidence to back up the claims it makes for the health products it sells."

Responding to the accusation, QVC's president-CEO, Doug Briggs, said, "We work extraordinarily hard to make sure that our 24-hour live broadcasting meets the highest possible standards of truthfulness. ... I look forward to having the chance to show a judge the exhaustive efforts that QVC makes in this regard."

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