The Federal Trade Commission has taken action against a vast network of internet marketers who misled consumers.
According to a statement obtained by ET from the FTC, three men -- Richard Fowler, Ryan Fowler and Nathan Martinez -- were allegedly behind the scam, which deceived consumers into believing they were ordering "free trials" of skincare products and dietary supplements. These men control 19 companies, collectively operating as Tarr, Inc.
They allegedly used fake websites (like womenshealthi.com and goodhousekeepingtoday.com) that appeared legitimate as a way to conceal their fraudulent conduct. They also used the likeness of a few celebrities to endorse their products without permission, claiming stars like Kim Kardashian, Dr. Oz, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Statham and more used the products and experienced "dramatic results."
"A vast network of online marketers and the three people behind it have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they sold more than 40 weight-loss, muscle-building and wrinkle-reduction products to consumers using unsubstantiated health claims, fake magazine and news sites, bogus celebrity endorsements, and phony consumer testimonials," the statement read. "The FTC also alleges that the defendants used deceptive offers of 'free' and 'risk-free' trials, and automatically enrolled consumers without their consent in negative option auto-ship programs with additional monthly charges."
The court order settling the FTC's charges imposes a judgment of $179 million, the amount that the FTC alleges consumers nationwide paid the defendants over a period of more than five years – which will be suspended after the defendants pay approximately $6.4 million to the Commission. It also prohibits the defendants from using the deceptive marketing tactics that they had allegedly used to promote their products and bans them in part from future negative option sales.
Back in August, ET exclusively revealed a clip from The View that showed Whoopi Goldberg explaining how stars like Joy Behar, Pauley Perrette and Robin McGraw fell victim to this internet scam. Behar, McGraw and Christina El Moussa have previously shared with ET how they fell victims to internet scammers.
"There is some freaking ad that's getting posted all over the internet which claims that you are leaving The View to pursue your passion for this b.s. skin care product," Goldberg said to Behar.
McGraw, who has her own beauty line, Robin McGraw Revelation, later told ET that she was furious about the scam.
"We were just so mad and still are," she explained. "It just makes us so mad. I noticed now they have put Oprah's picture in this story, Eva Longoria... these are women I highly respect and consider very personal friends. I would never ask Oprah to endorse a product of mine, and that's what it looks like in the story."
"It was annoying to me that somebody would spend money on something that I was not behind, that I had nothing to do with and that they were actually being taken in by this," added Behar. "There's no cease and desist letter for this because it's like sending a note to Santa Claus at the North Pole. You're not sure if he's gonna get it."
ET has reached out to Behar, Perrette, McGraw and El Moussa for comment.
Watch the video below to hear more.