SmartClick Media LLC, also trading as Doctor Trusted, and its owner Robert Vozdecky, AKA Bill Anderson, have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission that their “Doctor Trusted” certification program misled consumers with bogus claims that the products sold on websites with its seal were evaluated by doctors using their medical expertise.
The defendants also have 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.
“Consumers should be able to rely on seal and certificated for accurate information on how products are tested and evaluated,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Unfortunately, in this case, they were completely misled by the sellers of the “Doctor Trusted” program.
According to the compliant submitted by the FTC, between June 2013 and October 2015 the defendants marketed and sold the “Doctor Trusted” seal and certification program to websites that primarily offered health-related products and services, such as dietary supplement.
When consumers clicked on he seal, they were shown a pop-up box that displayed the “Doctor trusted” certificate, which stated that the products on the site were “carefully evaluated by an independent medical doctor who reviewed its medical information, claims, products, terms of service and policies,” and who deemed them “trustworthy and safe for purchase.”
The FTC charged that, in reality, the seal and certificates were completely meaningless. The defendants hired two freelane doctors who superficially reviewed the products on the websites. However, in truth, the doctors never evaluated the products, or determined whether the advertising claims for the products were supported.
The complaint also alleges the defendants marketed their “Doctor Trusted” program to online sellers nationwide with claims that it was “one of the most effective ways to increase sale with the least amount of effort,” and that the seal program would “give visitors a new level of confidence to purchase your product.” The defendants sold “Doctor Trusted” seals and certificates to 800 websites, including those operated by several defendants in FTC charges including GetAwayGrey and HealthyLife Sciences.
In addition, the FTC alleges that the defendants operated lifestyle blog and review websites that supposedly offered unbiased advice and information about various medical products, programs, health issues, and scientific breakthroughs. In reality, these sites were advertising vehicles, and the defendants received a commission whenever a consumer clicked on them or bought and advertised product.
The proposed stipulated final order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting the extent to which medical or other expertise is used to evaluate a product, that defendants are a consumer protection or non-profit organization, and the frequency with which defendants evaluate, certify, or review a product or service; and that any website or other publication is an independent resource for products and services.
The defendants also must disclose when the content of any website or other publication is not written by an objective source but is instead an an or paid placement, as well as any material connection between themselves and any product or service, being discussed, reviewed or evaluated on a website or other publication. Finally, the order imposes a judgment of $603,588, which will be partially suspended upon the defendants payment of$35,000.