Weight Loss Scams
Nearly half of American adults and well over half of American women are trying to lose weight, according to a 2018 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those figures fuel a $70 billion weight-loss industry — and a widespread trade in dubious products that will reduce only your bank account.
Diet scams rank No. 1 among health care frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), with on-the-make marketers deploying a variety of tricks to get people to purchase their wares. Some create websites that look like those of legitimate magazines and news organizations and fill them with phony articles claiming that celebrities have achieved amazing results from their products. The FTC recently obtained a $500,000 settlement from affiliate marketers in Florida who the agency said sent emails from hacked accounts to trick potential customers into thinking a friend or family member was urging them to try some weight-loss miracle pill.
These swindles don’t just peddle disappointment to people eager to slim down; some pose health risks from harmful hidden ingredients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has discovered that numerous weight-loss products contain drugs such as sibutramine, a controlled substance that was taken off the market in 2010 because, among other dangers, it can significantly increase blood pressure and heart rate and raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Even “free” trial offers can do damage to your wallet because they often come with big hidden charges. You might be unwittingly enrolled in a costly subscription plan. If you sign up for monthly orders, the bill for them might come due all at once, along with charges for items you didn’t ask for. Marketers may offer no-risk, money-back guarantees, but the FTC warns that unsatisfied consumers will find it almost impossible to cancel or get a refund.
Warning Signs Weight Loss Scams
- Advertisements tout weight-loss products with hyperbolic terms such as “miracle,” “revolutionary” or “scientific breakthrough.”
- A product or program promises you’ll lose a specific amount of weight per day, week or month.
- Claims sound too good to be true, such as that you can lose weight while eating as much as you want.
- Do seek advice from a trustworthy source, such as your doctor or a dietitian, before you buy a weight-loss product. A professional can help you figure out whether the item is safe and effective or suggest better ways to lose those pounds.
- Do a fact-check. If a product claims to be backed by scientific studies, look them up. Do they exist? Have the results been described accurately? Are the researchers credible?
- Do check out a weight-loss company’s reputation by searching the Better Business Bureau database.
- Do be wary of weight-loss products touted as “natural” or “herbal.” The Maryland Attorney General’s office cautions that those words don’t necessarily mean “safe” or “wholesome,” and some herbal ingredients are toxic in certain doses.
- Do carefully scrutinize the terms if you sign up online for a free trial of something. Watch for pre-checked boxes that authorize the company to charge you for regular orders or additional products.
- Don’t trust marketing claims that a product helps you lose weight without changing your diet or exercise habits.
- Don’t buy weight-loss body wraps, patches, creams, lotions or gadgets. According to the FTC, “Nothing you wear or apply to the skin can cause substantial weight loss.”
- Don’t trust endorsements from users who supposedly have achieved impressive weight loss. The FTC warns that marketers too often “cherry-pick their best cases or even make up bogus endorsements.”
AARP Fraud Watch Network
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free, or call our toll-free fraud helpline if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.
- Report weight-loss scams to the Federal Trade Commission online or at 877-382-4357.
- The FDA regularly issues warnings about tainted weight-loss products that contain hidden, potentially harmful substances.
Also From AARP
- Weight-Loss Scams: How to Really Lose
- 5 Key Ways to Lose Weight After 50
- Quiz: What’s Really Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts?
FTC Weight Loss Scam Tag
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Source: FTC Consumer Information
9 Crazy Weight-Loss Scams People Fell For
The Federal Trade Commission is preparing for a New Year’s spike in weight-loss scams. This year’s highlights included a cream inspired by lobster hormones and a magical pill that claimed to strip the calories from a plate of spaghetti.
Lobster-inspired slimming creams. A magical powder you can sprinkle on food to help curb your appetite. A supplement that’ll get you “high school skinny.”
As Americans resolve to lose weight and diet this year, scammers are at the ready to collect what amounts to hundreds of millions each year in products that swear to trim inches and cut pounds, usually without any exercise. The Federal Trade Commission is preparing for the annual spike in weight-loss product fraud that tends to occur this time of year, as consumers search for a “magic bullet,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director for the FTC’s division of advertising practices.
“In terms of advertising issues, weight loss fraud is one of the top priorities for the Federal Trade Commission,” Cleland said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “It’s very lucrative for scammers…you’ve got an audience that is susceptible to being scammed and a fairly sophisticated group of marketers that are very adept of taking advantage of them.”
In the FTC’s most recent consumer fraud survey, back in 2011, more consumers fell prey to fraudulent weight-loss products than any other fraud; an estimated 2.15% of consumers, or 5.1 million American adults, bought and used such goods that year. Despite that, companies typically can’t pay the full fines demanded by the FTC as they’ve run out of money at that point. A tally by BuzzFeed News found that those accused of making fraudulent weight-loss claims paid less than $100 million in consumer refunds and penalties this year.
“Even in the best cases, it doesn’t compare to the amount of money that consumers actually lose on the products,” Cleland said. “The companies have generally spent the money either on advertising or laundered the money to their own bank accounts or something, so there’s usually very little money left over for consumers. That suggests that consumer education is probably a more effective tool at protecting consumers than law enforcement.”
Cleland notes that consumers should remember “there is no miracle out there.” Below, nine scams that the FTC ruled on this year.
1. A powder to sprinkle on food that “enhances” its smell and taste, ultimately making consumers eat less and lose weight without dieting
Marketers who pitched “homeopathic HCG drops as a quick and easy way to lose substantial weight” were ordered to pay $1 million in December, and asked to stop selling HCG Platinum drops, the FTC said on Dec. 11. The products were sold online, at GNC, Rite Aid, and Walgreens and claimed users would likely lose as much as 50 pounds; a 30-day supply typically retailed for anywhere from $60 to $149.
Human chorionic gonadotropin has been fraudulently pitched for decades as a weight loss ingredient, the agency said. The FTC imposed a $3.2 million judgment on a separate group of marketers in January who were selling HCG Diet Direct Drops, though they were unable to pay. In that case, HCG Diet Direct and director Clint Ethington allegedly told customers to place the solution under their tongues before meals and stick to an extremely low-calorie diet to “lose 7 pounds in 7 days.”
3. Caffeine-infused underwear that promises to destroy fat cells
4. “Lobster-inspired” slimming cream
5. L’Occitane “Almond Beautiful Shape” cream, which promised to trim 1.3 inches from users’ thighs in four weeks
6. “Double Shot” pills, in which blue capsules burn fat and red ones block calories
7. Green coffee extract that can eliminate 10% of your body weight — a claim that got a boost from The Dr. Oz Show
8. “Get High School Skinny” Healthe Trim supplements
9. Ads that claimed using the “ab GLIDER” for three minutes a day “would lead to lost pounds, inches or clothing sizes.”
Thanks for Reading Weight Loss Scams [Video]
Dr. Don Yates Sr Ph.D., Founder
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