A slimming product company used bogus claims and the name of Kate Middleton to dupe women into signing up for a miracle weight loss supplement.
The firm SlimTonePlus used advertisements on Facebook and other websites to promote supposedly free trials of its slimming supplement.
However, thousands of women who signed up for the free deal found they had actually joined a rip-off subscription service paying £75 a month for the product.
The company’s marketing used the burgeoning interest in so-called superfoods and their claimed ability to stimulate the body’s ability to burn fat.
While the product’s ingredients are listed as raspberry ketones; green tea, bee pollen, guarana: citrus aurantium; and white kidney bean.
A paid for advertisement on Facebook attempted to cash in on the appeal of Kate Middleton and her particularly slim figure at the time of her marriage to Prince William.
It stated: ‘Kate M. Loses 21kg. Kate Middleton loses 7kg a week with these 2 shocking diet tips’.
A click through link from the advertisement took viewers to an apparently independent news website and a news article headed: ‘Raspberry Ketone Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet of Scam’.
It was followed by a case study involving an unidentified woman who reported enormous weight loss after taking the SlimtonePlus supplement.
There was a further link on the page directing users to a free trial of the product.
People who were taken in by the scam found they were paying £75 a month for products plus around £5 more for postage and packing.
While, in theory, customers were able to cancel before the payments kicked in, many did not realise this was necessary or found it difficult to reach the company.
Some of the firm’s advertisements linked to what appeared to be official news websites run by Channel 4 and others. However, these had actually been created by the company, which is registered in Panama.
The firm’s own website carries a range of personal testimonies boasting of remarkable weight loss linked to taking the supplement.
However, the Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) has ruled the company misled consumers and was wrong to make the weight loss claims.
It said the company had been unable to provide evidence that any of the testimonials it used to promote its product were genuine.
As a result it was guilty of numerous breaches of the advertising industry code.
The watchdog has told the company to change its advertising methods, however it has no power to fine or punish the firm beyond naming and shaming.
On the claim that someone called Kate Middleton had lost 7kg a week, the watchdog said: ‘Because the ad made specific references to rates of weight loss which are not permitted for foods, we concluded that the ad breached the code.’
Significantly, the ASA said: ‘We considered that the ads failed to make sufficiently clear that potential customers were required to cancel their trial within 14 days in order to avoid incurring the initial £75 plus postage and packaging fee and therefore concluded that the ads were misleading.’
In its defence, SlimTonePlus stated that it took complaints seriously and that they would take the issues to their advertising agency to ensure that they were fully compliant with all rules and regulations.
The firm did not respond to the specific complaints but stated that the promotion in question would be ending shortly. In fact, the company continues to advertise in the same way on the internet.
A spokesman for the Duchess of Cambridge said this was an issue for the ASA.