SmartClick Media LLC, and its owner Robert Vozdecky, also known as Bill Anderson, have agreed to settle charges waged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that their “Doctor Trusted” certification program misled consumers with false claims that products sold on websites with its seal were evaluated by doctors. The company and its owner have also 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.
According to the FTC’s complaint, between June 2013 and October 2015, SmartClick Media and Vozdecky marketed and sold the “Doctor Trusted” seal and certification program to websites that primarily offered health-related products and services, such as dietary supplements. When the seal was clicked on, a pop-up box with the “Doctor Trusted” certificate appeared 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 the products “trustworthy and safe for purchase.”
In reality, the FTC charged, the seals and certificates were meaningless. The so-called independent medical doctors were freelance doctors who superficially reviewed the products on the websites. They did not evaluate the products or determine whether the advertising claims made by the products’ manufacturers were supported, the FTC claimed.
Regardless, the “Doctor Trusted” program was marketed to online sellers nationwide with claims that it was “one of the most effective ways to increase sales with the least amount of effort,” and that the seal program would “give visitors a new level of confidence to purchase your product.” More than 800 websites purchased the “Doctor Trusted” seals and certificates, including several that were operated by defendants in other FTC actions, including GetAwayGray and HealthyLife Sciences, websites that sold dietary supplements making bogus claims.
The defendants are prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which medical or other expertise is used to evaluate a product and must disclose when the content of any website or other publication is not written by an objective source but instead an ad or paid placement. Finally, SmartClick Media and Vozdecky were fined $608,588, which will be partially suspended upon a payment of $35,000. The complaint and proposed order are pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and will have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.