Weight Loss Scams [Video]

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Weight Loss Scams

byline AARP

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.

More Resources

  • 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.

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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

Weight Loss Scams

Sensa represents one of the bigger weight-loss product scams in recent history, with U.S. sales of more than $364 million between 2008 and 2012, according to the FTC. Sensa Products LLC allegedly claimed sprinkling Sensa on meals would make “users feel full faster, so they eat less and lose weight without dieting, and without changing their exercise regime.” It promised the loss of 30 pounds.

Sensa Products, parent company Sensa Inc., Sensa Inc.’s former CEO Adam Goldenberg and Sensa creator and endorser Dr. Alan Hirsch were ordered to pay $26.5 million as part of a $46.5 million judgment. Sensa powder, which came in 12 flavors, was sold at chains including Costco and GNC, touted in a promotional book by Hirsch, and was advertised on the Home Shopping Network, on the radio and in magazines, the FTC said.

A one-month supply typically cost $59 plus shipping and handling. Hirsch allegedly gave “expert endorsements that were not supported by scientific evidence” while some consumers were paid $1,000 or $5,000 and given trips to Los Angeles for endorsing Sensa, the FTC said.

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

Weight Loss Scams

Wacoal / Via ftc.gov

Norm Thompson Outfitters and Wacoal America got in trouble with the FTC earlier this year for claiming their shapewear would help consumers shed cellulite and pounds. Norm Thompson Outfitters, which was ordered to pay $230,000, said their undergarments were “infused with micro-encapsulated caffeine, retinol and other ingredients” that would “slim and reshape the wearer’s body and reduce cellulite.” The garments were made with Lytess fabric, as per the complaint. Lytess bike shorts online claim to contain microcapsules created with a patented caffeine-based formula that will “mobilize fats” and moisturize skin. It promises that upon wearing the $55 shorts: “You will feel better.”

Wacoal, ordered to pay $1.3 million, allegedly made “false and unsubstantiated claims that wearing iPants would: substantially reduce cellulite; cause a substantial reduction in the wearer’s thigh measurements; and destroy fat cells, resulting in substantial slimming,” the FTC said. The garments cost $44 to $85. The Wacoal brand is carried at retailers including Macy’s, Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor.

4. “Lobster-inspired” slimming cream

Weight Loss Scams

DermaDoctor / Via dermadoctor.com

DERMAdoctor claimed its Shrinking Beauty cream, which cost $58 for a 5.5-ounce tube, would “improve the appearance of cellulite, smooth and tighten skin” and was “clinically proven to reduce measurements up to one inch in two weeks,'” the FTC said in a Dec. 23 release. The formula “simulates a lobster’s ability to shrink its body,” the company said in a June 2013 Health magazine ad.

DERMAdoctor allegedly wrote on its website: “Learn from the lobster. This sea creature knows exactly how to shrink a size effortlessly without going on a diet. Our slimming and toning formula mirrors the ecdysteroid hormone lobsters produce to get skinny and wiggle free of their shells. Shrinking Beauty borrows from exotic botanical sources to mimic this oceanic wonder. A macronutrient complex further provides a proper ratio of protein, carbs and lipids for healthy, cellulite-free skin.”

As of Dec. 29, the cream’s product description noted it’s “not intended for weight loss.”

5. L’Occitane “Almond Beautiful Shape” cream, which promised to trim 1.3 inches from users’ thighs in four weeks

Weight Loss Scams

FTC / Via ftc.gov

L’Occitane was required to pay $450,000 after suggesting its “Almond Beautiful Shape” cream was scientifically proven to trim 1.3 inches from a user’s thighs in four weeks while significantly reducing cellulite, according to the FTC. The company also indicated that scientific tests proved its “Almond Shaping Delight” cream “significantly slims the body in just four weeks.”

The fee was intended for consumer redress. The company was prohibited from “making future false and deceptive weight-loss claims,” the FTC said.

6. “Double Shot” pills, in which blue capsules burn fat and red ones block calories

Weight Loss Scams

FTC / Via ftc.gov

While this direct mail advertising campaign took place between 2012 and October 2013, Manon Fernet and her Quebec-based company agreed to pay $500,000 to settle FTC charges this year over their Double Shot pills. The marketers did business as the “Freedom Center Against Obesity,” supposedly in California, though the actual address was their fulfillment house. One supply of pills “to lose up to 30 pounds” cost $79; the bottles “contained blue capsules that supposedly burned fat, and red ones that supposedly blocked calories,” the FTC said. The marketers allegedly “claimed that the effectiveness of Double Shot as a weight-loss treatment had been proven by clinical studies.”

In one ad, the marketers said the pills would enable a user to absorb just 72 calories from a 720-calorie plate of spaghetti. Consumers were tricked into believing Double Shot “would cause rapid, substantial, and permanent weight loss, without diet or exercise,” the FTC said.

Weight Loss Scams

FTC / Via ftc.gov

7. Green coffee extract that can eliminate 10% of your body weight — a claim that got a boost from The Dr. Oz Show

Weight Loss Scams

Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press / MCT

Applied Food Sciences allegedly used a study “so hopelessly flawed that no reliable conclusions could be drawn from it,” to show that green coffee extract causes “substantial weight and fat loss,” the FTC said in September. AFS claimed Green Coffee Antioxidant “caused consumers to lose 17.7 pounds, 10.5% of body weight, and 16% of body fat with or without diet and exercise, in 22 weeks,” based on the flawed study. The study’s lead investigator allegedly altered weights and other key measurements of subjects, changed the trial length and misstated which subjects were taking the antioxidant or a placebo during the trial.

AFS didn’t play a part in getting the study on The Dr. Oz Show but issued a release highlighting the show for extra publicity afterwards, as per the FTC. The company was ordered to pay $3.5 million and “to have scientific substantiation for any future weight-loss claims it makes.”

8. “Get High School Skinny” Healthe Trim supplements

Weight Loss Scams

FTC complaint / Via ftc.gov

Healthe Trim supplements, sold online and at CVS, GNC and Walgreens, claimed they could help customers lose up to 165 pounds with the tagline: “Get high school skinny.” A month’s supply cost up to $65.

Dwyer and HealthyLife Sciences “made false and unsubstantiated claims that Healthe Trim supplements would cause rapid and substantial weight loss” and “relied heavily on consumer testimonials that portrayed losing weight as easy,” the FTC wrote in an Oct. 24 release. The firm claimed the supplements would “burn fat, increase metabolism, and suppress appetite.”

John Matthew Dwyer III, the CEO and co-founder behind Healthe Trim, was banned from the weight-loss industry. The company, HealthyLife Sciences LLC is banned from making seven “scientifically infeasible” weight-loss claims.

Weight Loss Scams

Via ftc.gov

9. Ads that claimed using the “ab GLIDER” for three minutes a day “would lead to lost pounds, inches or clothing sizes.”

Weight Loss Scams

ICON/ab Glider / Via ftc.gov

ICON Health & Fitness ads claimed using ab GLIDER alone, or for three minutes a day, would cut pounds, inches or clothing sizes.

This violated a 1997 order against ICON that prohibited it from making “unsubstantiated claims for weight-loss exercise equipment,” while also requiring an endorser’s claim “reflect a typical user’s experience or be accompanied by a clear and prominent disclosure.” Given it wasn’t clear the results were solely from the ab GLIDER, the firm agreed to pay $3 million in civil penalties to settle FTC charges.


Thanks for Reading Weight Loss Scams [Video]

Dr. Don Yates Sr Ph.D., Founder

The Internet Crime Fighters Org (ICFO)

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