'Miracle weight-loss' biz sued for trying to silence bad online reviews

US watchdog drags Roca Labs to court over Ts and Cs

A US watchdog is suing a health biz that allegedly used the terms and conditions on its diet powder to silence disgruntled customers.

In a complaint [PDF] filed to the Middle Florida US District Court, the FTC accused Roca Labs of peddling an ineffective weight-loss product, then threatening customers who posted negative reviews of the product on the web.

"Roca Labs had an adversarial relationship with the truth," FTC consumer protection bureau director Jessica Rich said on Monday.

"Not only did they make false or unsubstantiated weight-loss claims, they also attempted to intimidate their own customers from sharing truthful – and truly negative – reviews of their product."

According to the FTC, Roca Labs made and sold powders designed to help adults and children burn fat and curb food cravings, selling some $20m worth of the products, which were advertised on websites and in paid-for search results.

Roca Labs advertised its products as an alternative to weight loss surgery, and, according to the FTC, charged customers up to $640 for a 3-4 month supply of the weight-loss powders plus a diet plan.

When customers were unhappy with the products and posted negative reviews or complained to the Better Business Bureau, the FTC says Roca Labs threatened them with lawsuits, claiming the terms and conditions of the sale contained a "gag clause" prohibiting customers from making disparaging claims about the product.

The FTC says Roca Labs has gone so far as to file suit against customers who posted negative reviews and comments, claiming violations of the terms and conditions.

"By depriving prospective purchasers of this truthful, negative information, defendants' practices have resulted or are likely to result in consumers buying Roca Labs products they would not otherwise have bought," the FTC complaint reads.

The FTC charges that Roca Labs use of the non-disparagement claims and the lawsuits against customers are illegal under Section 5 of the FTC Act prohibiting unfair or deceptive practices. The FTC has filed six other counts against Roca Labs for deceptive advertising, deceptive claims about it products, disclosing customer private health information, and deceptive discount claims.

The complaint seeks damages and refunds for customers as well as an injunction to prevent further false claims.

The Roca Labs website currently says the company is "undergoing improvements" and new customers cannot be accepted. An inquiry to the site's support address was not answered. ®

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