Oprah fights unlicensed endorsements

August 20, 2009 3:21:57 PM PDT
Oprah Winfrey is known to have the Midas touch. Her stamp of approval can give sales of books and merchandise a big boost. But some companies are trying to capitalize on that, and are putting her name on products she hasn't approved.Like those that contain the acai berry. Last year, when she and Dr. Mehmet Oz talked about the acai berry on her show, the number of acai products on the market exploded and some companies used Oprah's and Dr. Oz' names.

"Companies used the fact that Oprah and Mehmet Oz talked about the acai berries on their shows to create the impression that Oprah and Oz were selling these products and endorsing them," said David Schardt, with the Center for Science and Public Interest.

The products touted the berries as a wonder food, able to spur weight loss, cure sexual dysfunction and boost longevity. But not only was there no endorsement, the Center for Science and Public Interest says there's no evidence acai helps people lose weight. Now, Oprah and the doctor have filed a lawsuit claiming more than 40 companies fabricated quotes about products neither has endorsed.

Dr. Oz talked exclusively to Diane Sawyer, saying buyers of these products have been duped.

"It's been very hurtful, because many Americans have seen images of me and Oprah and others supporting, it would appear, products that actually don't work in the ways that are described," he said. "And more importantly, when consumers trusting us try to buy these products over the Web, what they end up getting are fake products, pills that don't really have what's promised in them. They're often duped into paying more than they should. If my picture is next to a product, endorsing it, and supporting your purchase of it, I did not give them permission."

The Illinois attorney general is also filing suit on behalf of consumers who were tricked.

"Hopefully these companies will think twice about exploiting celebrities and cheating people by making them think that celebrities really endorsed these products," Schardt said.

In many cases, the offers turn out to be fraudulent or credit card scams, where consumers think they are getting a free trial then are charged a much higher price or monthly subscriptions that they never agreed to.


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