Oreck Settles False Advertising Charges, Pays FTC $750,000 Fine

Oreck's false advertising exampleOreck Corporation has agreed to stop making false and unproven claims about the health benefits of its products and will pay a $750,000 fine to settle Federal Trade Commission charges.

The FTC sued Oreck as part of its ongoing efforts to protect consumers from bogus health claims, which in Oreck's case consisted of assertions that two of its products reduce the risk of flu and other illnesses, and eliminate virtually all common germs and allergens.The FTC's allegations involved the Oreck Halo vacuum and the Oreck ProShield Plus air cleaner. The Halo is an upright vacuum cleaner that shines ultraviolet light onto the floor while vacuuming. The ProShield Plus is a portable air cleaner that filters air particles via an electrostatic charge. The Halo retails for $599.95, while the ProShield Plus goes for $399.95.

According to the FTC complaint, which resulted from a referral by the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division, Oreck advertised these products via infomercials, traditional television commercials, print ads, in-store displays, and online ads.

During the 2009 holiday season, online ads displayed the Halo and the ProShield Plus side by side under the headline "Introducing the Oreck Flu Fighters, Help Reduce the Flu on Virtually any Surface and in the Air in Your Home." The ads also claimed the Proshield Plus "captures and destroys many airborne viruses like the flu."

An infomercial for the Oreck Halo claimed, "The Oreck Halo has killed up to 99.9 percent of bacteria exposed to its light in one second or less," and also boasted that the vacuum's light chamber "has been tested and shown to kill up to 99.9 percent of certain common germs, plus dangerous pathogens like E. coli and MRSA."

The FTC charged Oreck with making the following false and deceptive claims about the Halo vacuum and ProShield Plus air cleaner:
  • The Halo and the ProShield Plus prevent or substantially reduce the risk of flu.
  • The Halo and the ProShield Plus prevent or substantially reduce the risk of other illnesses or ailments caused by bacteria, viruses, molds, and allergens – such as the common cold, asthma, and allergy symptoms.
  • The Halo eliminates all or almost all common germs and allergens found on the floors in users' homes, and is scientifically proven to do so.
  • The Halo's ultraviolet light is effective against germs, bacteria, dust mites, mold, and viruses embedded in carpets.
  • The ProShield Plus eliminates all or almost all airborne particles from a typical household room under normal living conditions, and is scientifically proven to do so.
The complaint also accused Oreck of supplying deceptive advertising material to its franchise stores to help sell the Halo and the ProShield Plus, which the FTC said "provided the means and instrumentalities to its distributors to deceive consumers."

The settlement bans Oreck from making any of the deceptive claims challenged in the FTC complaint for any of its vacuum cleaner or air cleaning products -- unless it produces competent and reliable scientific evidence to back these claims up.

In addition to the $750,000 penalty, Oreck is also forbidden from making any claims about a product's comparative health benefits without competent and reliable scientific evidence, and from misrepresenting the results of any scientific test, study, or research.
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