Consumer Health Digest #03-31

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 5, 2003


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.


FTC halts Trek Alliance. A federal district court judge has issued a preliminary injunction halting the illegal activities of Trek Alliance, freezing its assets and those of its principals pending trial, and appointing a receiver to oversee the business assets. Trek Alliance is a multilevel marketing company that offered distributorships for products including water filters, cleaning products, and nutritional supplements. Although claims made for many of these products were misleading, the FTC action was limited to financial misrepresentations. [Court halts Trek Alliance pyramid scheme. FTC news release, Aug 4, 2003]

In December 2002, the FTC sued the California-based operation for using deceptive earnings claims to lure recruits into investing hundreds or thousands of dollars in their illegal scheme. The agency charged that Trek Alliance was patterned after Equinox International, an operation that in April 2000 agreed to liquidate assets worth roughly $40 million to settle charges that it was operating an illegal pyramid scheme. According to the FTC: (a) Trek distributors ran "Help Wanted" ads that implied salaried positions; (b) Respondents instead received a sales presentation designed to recruit new distributors; (c) Trek said recruits could earn money by selling products or recruiting, but emphasized that recruiting was more lucrative; (d) the recruits were expected to attend training seminars and purchase hundreds of dollars worth of products to be eligible for higher commissions; (e) the company promised income of $2,000 to $20,000 per month, but the vast majority of recruits made less money than they had paid for front-end expenses.

The FTC's complaint names as defendants Trek Alliance Inc., Trek Education Corporation, VonFlagg Corporation, J. Kale Flagg, Harry Flagg, and Richard and Tiffani Von Alvensleben. Kale Flagg and Richard Von Alvensleben were top distributors with Equinox. The judicial order bars the defendants from (a) misrepresenting the potential earnings, financial gain, or benefits of any business investment opportunity; (b) failing to disclose all financial information material to a decision to participate in such programs; and (c) making any false or misleading representation in connection with marketing or distributing any good or service. Former ads for the products can be viewed by searching for "www.trekalliance.com" at http://www.archive.org.


Coral calcium product seized. On June 19, in an action initiated by FDA, U.S. Marshals seized $2.6 million worth of Coral Calcium Supreme, which had been promoted in television infomercials featuring Kevin Trudeau and Robert Barefoot. Earlier in June, the FTC charged the pair with falsely representing that the product is effective against cancer, multiple sclerosis, lupus, heart disease, and many other health problems. Both agencies have warned many marketers to stop making similar claims through their Web sites. Stipulated preliminary injunctions entered against Trudeau, Barefoot, Shop America LLC and Deonna Enterprises, Inc., prohibit the challenged claims and restrict their ability to use or dissipate their assets. [FDA Dietary Supplement Enforcement Report, July 2003] Quackwatch has a comprehensive report on Barefoot, Trudeau, and coral calcium.


Dubious "embryonic stem cell therapy" debunked. Quackwatch has published a comprehensive report stating that the "embryonic stem cell transplantations" offered at clinics in the Dominican Republic and Ukrain are unsubstantiated and lack a scientifically plausible rationale. Although stem cell therapy has a few practical applications and considerable promise, there is no reason to believe that these clinics provide a legitimate service. A few months ago, two American physicians stopped offering the treatment after the FDA raided the offices of one of them and warned their supplier to stop providing the cells. The report also tells why "banking" umbilical cord blood may be a poor investment. [Barrett S. The shady side of embryonic stem cell therapy, Aug 4, 2003]


British courts side with vaccination in parental dispute. A British appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling ordering two mothers to ensure that their daughters are given the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. The ruling covered two separate cases brought by fathers who wanted their daughters to be immunized despite opposition of the girls' unmarried mothers. The three-judge panel agreed that the benefits greatly outweighed the risks. The father's experts were a consultant pediatrician with a special interest in immunology and a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases. The mother's "expert" was a general practitioner who practiced homeopathy. One of the appeals judges said that the rival expert opinions had been of "unusually unequal force." Another judge characterized the antivaccination evidence that the mother had relied upon as "junk science." [Dyer C. Mothers lose anti-MMR battle. The Guardian, July 31, 2003]


New site attacks "attachment therapy." KidsComeFirst.info has posted comprehensive information about "junk therapies" that subject children to mental and physical abuse. The site includes (a) video clips of children being tortured by therapists doing "holding therapy" and (b) case reports about children who were killed by such therapy.


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This page was revised on August 6, 2003.