Fraudulent Online Doctor Certification Program Draws FTC Charges
The defendants are prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which medical expertise is used to evaluate a product
The operators of a phony doctor certification program have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges over misleading consumers.
SmartClick Media, also doing business as Doctor Trusted, and its owner Robert Vozdecky, also known as Bill Anderson, conducted a "Doctor Trusted" scheme that made bogus claims that the products sold on websites with its seal were evaluated by doctors using their medical expertise. In addition, the defendants agreed to settle charges that several of their websites, such as betterlivingjournal.org, were deceptively formatted to appear to be independent lifestyle blogs or health-product review sites.
According to the FTC's complaint, from June 2013 and October 2015, the defendants sold and marketed the "Doctor Trusted" seal and certification program to websites that primarily offered health-related products and services, such as dietary supplements. The seal fraudulently claimed that the site's products were "carefully evaluated by an independent medical doctor who reviewed its medical information, claims, products, terms of service, and policies."
In reality, the defendants hired two freelance doctors who conducted insincere reviews, failing to legitimately test the products' claims.
"Consumers should be able to rely on seals and certificates for accurate information on how products are tested and evaluated," said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a written statement. "Unfortunately, in this case, they were completely misled by the sellers of the 'Doctor Trusted' program."
The defendants marketed the program to online sellers, claiming that it was "one of the most effective ways to increase sales with the least amount of effort," and that the seal program would "give visitors a new level of confidence to purchase your product." The program was sold to 800 websites.
The proposed stipulated final order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting the extent to which medical or other expertise is used to evaluate a product. The defendants must also disclose when the content of any website or other publication is not written by an objective source but is instead an ad or paid placement.
In addition, the order imposes a judgement of $603,588, which will be partially suspended upon the defendants' payment of $35,000.