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As Schemed On TV


Infomercials still parting fools, money

In 1984, the Reagan Administration lifted restrictions on how many commercial minutes could be legally broadcast in any given hour. Shortly thereafter, the infomercial industry was born.

Advertisers spend about a billion dollars a year on infomercials - or, as they're known in the trade, "long-form media." With 30 minutes of airtime ranging from around $800 in local-broadcast markets to the low-to-mid 4 figures for national cable, consumers are exposed to plenty of pitches for at-home exercise machines, skin-care products and get-rich-quick schemes.

One in 4 people in this country have picked up the phone and bought something pitched to them by an infomercial.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Kevin Trudeau ran an infomercial empire that "misled Americans for years."

The beginnings of Trudeau's company might be regarded as unconventional. In the early 1990s, Trudeau did federal time for "using credit card numbers belonging to customers who'd signed up for his memory improvement courses." Trudeau told the Washington Post that "he doesn't think" he did it; however, it was a "very blurry time with all the stress."

Following his release from prison, Trudeau and Jules Leib, a fellow inmate who had been incarcerated for attempted distribution of cocaine, founded Nutrition for Life. After the firm ran an ad for a product called Coral Calcium Supreme, which claimed to cure everything from cancer to heart disease, the FTC banned Trudeau from infomercials for life.

Undaunted, Trudeau promptly restyled himself as an author. Within months of the FTC ruling, he hit the airwaves with a book called Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About, prompting the question: Can multiple sclerosis really be cured by magnetic mattress pads?

People were curious enough about the answer to vault Natural Cures to the top of the New York Times bestseller list; according to Publishers Weekly, it became the most popular non-fiction book in the United States.

Infomercial legend Don Lapre also tapped into the lucrative medical quackery market after amassing his first fortune by hawking the "easiest way in the world that can make you an absolute fortune": Money Making Secrets, a foolproof system for placing "tiny little ads" for 900-numbers.

Like Trudeau, Lapre soon realized the big money was in health, not wealth, and began selling The Greatest Vitamin in the World. Though the FDA disputed Lapre's claims that the vitamin could cure diabetes, stroke, heart disease, insomnia, cancer and arthritis, he's still in business.

According to his website, Lapre's company will pay $1000 for every 20 new customers an "independent advertiser" convinces to buy The Greatest Vitamin in the World. It also says that Lapre is "always the generous man" and "likes having meetings at restaurants, where he can order a table full of sushi for everyone to share," for which he enjoys "picking up the tab."

Which Don Lapre may have done one too many times.

I accessed Maricopa County, Arizona's public documents on their website and found a house for sale:

Worth just over $400,000, Aurora Loan Services was auctioning off a home to the highest bidder in a foreclosure sale.

Take a look at whose house it was:

Shouldn't have ordered that extra spicy tuna roll, Don.
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