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FIVE Internet companies settle federal fraud charges


WASHINGTON (AP) _ Five companies that offered products on the Internet claiming to cure everything from AIDS to cancer have agreed to settle federal fraud charges, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

The agency filed charges against a sixth company in federal court June 4. The other five must stop their false advertising and, in some cases, repay their customers and pay fines to the government, the FTC said.

``Examples of questionable products being peddled on the Web abound,'' FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris said in a statement. ``Many of the Web sites targeted today are jeopardizing the health and safety of consumers with outlandish promises and false hope.''

The release of results from the FTC's ``Operation Cure.All'' is the agency's first major announcement since Muris took over as chairman this month. Muris was a law professor at George Mason University when President Bush nominated him in March.

The FTC said some of the targeted products with deceptive health claims included:

_Herbal cures costing hundreds of dollars and marketed as replacements for surgery, radiation treatments or chemotherapy.

_A device that delivered mild electric current to kill parasites allegedly responsible for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

_Shark cartilage, colloidal silver and the hormone DHEA _ all touted as cures for numerous ailments.

_The herb St. John's wort marketed as a safe treatment for illnesses including HIV or AIDS. The FTC said there is not enough evidence to support that claim and that the herb actually is known to interfere with HIV/AIDS medications.

Pregnant women should also avoid St. John's wort, the agency said.

``It's bad enough when someone, with little or no evidence, touts unproven remedies to vulnerable populations,'' said Walter H. Carr, a chairman with the National AIDS Health Fraud Task Force Network. ``It's even more frightening when they do so despite _ and without so much as a mention of _ emerging risks that those remedies pose to the very people to whom they are pitching their sale.''

As part of their settlement, the two companies making claims about St. John's wort _ Panda Herbal International of Bensalem, Pa., and ForMor Inc. of Conway, Ark. _ will now have to include with their advertising a warning about drug interactions.

The other companies that agreed to settle charges are Aaron Co. of Palm Bay, Fla.; Jaguar Enterprises of Mesquite, Texas; and MaxCell BioScience of Broomfield, Colo., which also must pay the FTC $150,000.

By agreeing to settle, none of the companies admitted violating any law.

The FTC has filed charges in U.S. District Court in Seattle against Western Herb and Dietary Products Inc., based in Blaine, Wash. The government charged that the company made unsupported claims that various herbal products and electric ``zapper'' units could treat diseases.

Attorneys for Western Herb did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

While the case is still pending, the company has agreed to stop making unsupported claims, said FTC attorney Michelle K. Rusk.

The FTC warns that consumers should beware of panaceas and be particularly wary of terms like ``scientific breakthrough,'' ``miraculous cure,'' ``exclusive product,'' ``secret ingredient'' or ``ancient remedy.''

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