Consumer Health Digest #11-13
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 19, 2011
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.
Geier troubles escalate. In April, the Maryland State Board of Physicians issued an emergency suspension order which stated that Mark Geier, M.D had misrepresented his credentials, operated an institutional review board that did not meet state and federal regulations, and rendered substandard care to nine patients with autism. In six of the patients, the board charged, he inappropriately diagnosed precocious puberty (a rare condition) and administered Lupron, a drug that reduces the body's production of the male hormone testosterone and is used to castrate sex offenders. In three of the patients, he administered inappropriate chelation therapy. This week, following a hearing, the Board issued formal charges against him and also charged his son David Geier with practicing medicine without a license. Dr. Geier has appealed the Board's decision.
The Geiers have been operating ASD Centers LLC, a chain of clinics that advertises "a new combined genetic, biochemical, heavy metal, and hormonal evaluation/treatment for patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)." The advertising also asserts that evaluations of more than 600 ASD patients have revealed that most have symptoms and laboratory results consistent with high levels of male hormones. Several experts have denounced the use of Lupron to treat autistic children. [Tsouderos T. 'Miracle drug' called junk science: Powerful castration drug pushed for autistic children, but medical experts denounce unproven claims. Chicago Tribune, May 21, 2009] In response to the action against David, Maryland's governor removed him from Maryland's Autism Commission. [Roylance FD. O'Malley ousts David Geier from autism commission. Baltimore Sun, May 20, 2011]
FTC attacks massive online fraud. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is suing the operators of an online operation that collected more than $450 million from consumers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. [FTC charges online marketers with scamming consumers out of hundreds of millions of dollars with 'free' trial offers. FTC news release, May 17, 2011] According to the FTC's complaint:
- Jesse Willms (a Canadian resident), four American associates, and 10 companies Willms controlled used deceptive tactics in offering "free trials" for dietary supplements, a work-at-home scheme, access to government grants, free credit reports, and penny auctions.
- The products included at least 15 brands of acai berry weight-loss pills, 6 brands of colon cleansers, 13 brands of teeth whiteners, and supplements containing resveratrol (the supposedly healthful ingredient in red wine)—all marketed with false or misleading claims. One of the "colon cleansers" was falsely claimed to prevent cancer.
- The defendants also touted bogus endorsements by Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray and falsely represented that their products had been endorsed or positively reported by CNN, MSNBC, USA Today, CBS, and 60 Minutes.
- Willms and his companies obtained consumers' credit or debit card account numbers, by enticing them with bogus "free" or "risk-free" trial offers that supposedly required only small shipping and handling fees, and also promised phony "bonus" offers just for signing up. Consumers who had no reason to believe they would be charged for the trial product or the extra bonus products were often charged for the "free" trial plus a monthly recurring fee, typically $79.95. Consumers were also charged monthly recurring fees for so-called bonus offers.
- Although the defendants offered a money-back guarantee, consumers were often unsuccessful in canceling the charges or obtaining refunds.
- Defendants generated more than $467 million in gross sales, with unreimbursed consumer injury totaling more than $412 million.
- Although credit card companies and banks attempted to stop the defendants from using merchant credit card services, they were able keep the money flowing by using shell companies and manipulating payment data.
"Free" offers for weight-loss products and other dietary supplements are often associated with credit card fraud. The activity is lucrative enough that no amount of case-by-case civil enforcement action will have much impact. To improve the situation, our society needs a plan that includes screening of certain types of ads, publicly exposing sellers placed on the VISA/MasterCard MATCH (terminated merchant) list, and routine criminal prosecution of violators.
Dubious doctor resurfaces. Raymond Lecraw, who in 1991 was convicted of prescription fraud and practicing medicine without a license in Virginia is now identified as "Dr. Raymond LaCroix, MD" on the Web site of a Swiss company that markets "cellular therapy" products. [Barrett S. Some notes on Lab Dom AVMM and two of its consultants. Quackwatch, May 21, 2011] Newspaper reports about the 1991 case state that Lecraw had attended a nonaccredited medical school in the Dominican Republic and failed in five attempts to get certification in Virginia. "Cellular therapy"—the concept that injecting cells from animal or human organs will strengthen or repair the corresponding organs of the recipient—lacks scientific support.
This page was posted on May 20, 2011.