Makers of a weight loss additive called Sensa will return more than $26 million to consumers to settle federal charges the company used deceptive advertising claiming that consumers could lose weight by simply sprinkling the powder on food.
Sensa Products LLC promoted the powder through retailers such as Costco and GNC and with infomercials on the Home Shopping Network and other television networks. The company sold a one-month supply for $59 and urged consumers to "sprinkle, eat and lose weight."
But Federal Trade Commission officials said Tuesday the company used bogus clinical studies and paid endorsements to rack up more than $364 million in sales between 2008 and 2012.
The government's settlement with California-based Sensa is part of a broader crackdown on four companies peddling weight-loss products including food additives, skin creams and diet supplements.
"The chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none -- the science just isn't there," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's consumer protection office.
The FTC will also collect $7.3 million from LeanSpa, a company that promotes acai berry and "colon cleanse" weight loss supplements through fake news websites. Also swept up are skin cream maker L'Occitane, which claimed its Almond Beautiful skin cream could help users "trim 1.3 inches in just 4 weeks," and HCG Diet Direct, which sells unproven hormones for weight loss. The companies will together return about $34 million to consumers.
Regulators acknowledged they were only able to collect a fraction of what the public paid for the products. In the case of Sensa, FTC officials said much of the revenue was quickly spent on advertising, including infomercials. The total judgment against Sensa was $46.5 million, but $20 million was suspended because of the company's inability to pay, the FTC said.
The company said it has agreed to remove the claims cited by the FTC from its advertising. "The settlement involves no admission of wrongful conduct by the company and does not challenge the product's safety," Sensa said, adding that it will continue marketing its products with new advertisements.