The marketers of a low-level light therapy device (LLLT) called Willow Curve will have to stop making alleged deceptive claims that the device treats chronic, severe pain and associated inflammation, under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.
In a complaint filed in federal court, the FTC alleged that the marketers of Willow Curve have promoted the device nationwide since 2014, touting it as a “smart” device that is “clinically proven,” even though they lack scientific evidence to support these claims.
“When LLLT sellers say their devices will relieve pain, they’d better have the scientific proof to back it up,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “People looking for drug-free pain relief deserve truthful information about these products.”
The defendants also falsely claimed that Willow Curve, a curved device that emits infrared and invisible light, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to diagnose and treat chronic, severe pain and reduce inflammation, according the FTC. In addition, their marketing campaign included the use of deceptive “native” ads, which were commercial content disguised as independent journalistic content, according to the complaint.
The FTC also alleged that the defendants deceptively claimed Willow Curve comes with a “risk free money back” guarantee. In reality, according to the FTC complaint, consumers who returned the device had to pay shipping and handling costs and often did not receive a refund at all or had to wait more than a year for it.
The FTC’s complaint names as defendants Michigan-based Physicians Technology, LLC and Willow Labs, LLC, and company owners Dr. Ronald Shapiro and David Sutton.
In addition to prohibiting defendants’ alleged deceptive health claims, the proposed settlement order bars their alleged deceptive refund and native advertising practices and prohibits them from providing others the means to engage in the same illegal conduct that the order prohibits. Finally, the order imposes a $22 million judgment against the defendants, which will be partially suspended after Shapiro and Sutton each pay $200,000, based on their ability to pay.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and stipulated final order was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter not participating. The FTC filed the complaint and proposed final order in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.