ONTARIO, Canada — If a product online seems too good to be true, that may be because it is.
An NBC News investigation found companies like BlackOxygen Organics have thrived for years off multi-level marketing in business models that critics have dubbed pyramid schemes.
For decades, the company has been selling what appears to be mud as a product that can improve your health and well-being. NBC says it even caught on as a possible remedy for COVID — it's not.
In sleek black and white packages, the company is accused of selling literal dirt to people as tablets, powders and even coffee pods, claiming it would "nourish your body with what it's made of..."
The tablets and powder fetched the company $110 per sale while the coffee pods cashed in at $30 a pop, per archives of BlackOxygen Organics website.
NBC News reports BlackOxygen Organics' MLM compensation plan is convoluted but that its company handbook shows "brand partners" earned income through retail commissions and recruiting other sellers.
Some users helped push the product on Facebook. A search for the company's name showed groups of interested people. In other groups and posts, however, people claimed to unveil "the truth" about BlackOxygen Organics' products.
According to NBC News, the company's vice president of business development, Ron Montaruli, said that by September 2021, BlackOxygen Organics had attracted 21,000 sellers and 38,000 new customers.
Sales even skyrocketed from $200,000 to nearly $4 million a month, according to Montaruli, per NBC News.
CEO Marc Saint-Onge, aka "The mudman's," company claimed on its website that its products contain fulvic acid extracted from organic matter in bogs that "originated over 60,000 thousand years ago."
"Our product has gone through rigorous testing and certification to ensure you get the best quality supplement available anywhere," the now-removed website reads.
The website also claimed while it was not to be used to "treat or cure human diseases, including COVID-19," that it could be taken by both kids and animals and even had agricultural applications.
But entities like Health Canada have something to say about that.
A Canadian recall was put in place on Sept. 23 for all lots of the tablets and organic powder due to potential health risks.
"These products are being marketed as fulvic acid supplement(s); however, this use and the quantity of fulvic acid provided by these products has not been evaluated or authorized by Health Canada," a press release reads.
A federal lawsuit has been filed by a Georgia-based attorney who says he received complaints that the dirt wasn't the miracle substance it was marketed to be.
“We begin to receive inquiries and calls on our website with people having problems and issues. Ultimately, we sent the products out for independent testing, and then when that came back and showed that there were toxic heavy metals at an unsafe level, that’s when we knew we had to act," the attorney told WSB-TV.
In the end, it appears the concerns caught up with BlackOxygen Organics. A post to a Facebook group shows a screenshot of an email confirming operations were closed on Nov. 23.
NBC News reports the company's future is uncertain and that tens of thousands of bags remain in warehouses while sellers are unlikely to get their orders, refunds, or commissions.