Companies fined for overselling 'brain games'

Have you played any online games that promised to reduce cognitive decline? They may be fun to play but be aware that any health-related claims made by the companies may be unfounded.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently brought charges and settled with several companies that advertised false scientific claims that users would develop better cognitive health by playing their online games. Lumosity will pay $2 million in settling deceptive advertising charges (to be paid to customers who purchased the products) and Learning Rx will pay a $200,000 settlement. Both of these companies were charged with making unsubstantiated and deceptive claims for their “brain training” programs.

Cognitive training programs are big business right now, especially with the aging of baby boomers and the ease of using computers for online games. Any advertising that claims using these programs on a regular basis will help avoid mental decline caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s plays right into the emotions and fears of seniors. According to the FTC, claims made by these companies do not have supporting data or research to prove they work.

The programs that advertise on TV, radio and internet often include convincing testimonials. What the companies don’t disclose is that these testimonials may be from doctors who are not medically trained or specialize in this area of research. Consumers giving testimonials may have been promised prizes and trips.

In essence, the Federal Trade Commission alleges that these companies do not have the scientific research to back up their claims. According to an article in The New York Times, “the scientific jury is still out on whether they are really boosting brain health or just paying hundreds of dollars to get better at a game.”

Better Business Bureau suggests that people be wary of testimonials touting products – especially medical products. Is the expert really a doctor in that field of research? Are celebrities and consumers being compensated for their testimonials? Are you hearing about these “scientific breakthroughs” in the mainstream media or just in the company’s advertising?

Be sure to do your own research online before purchasing a product or subscription.

Michelle Tabler is the Better Business Bureau Alaska Regional Manager.