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BBB: Watch out for “miracle” slimming scams as you tackle your new year’s resolution

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 5:44 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Consumers spent much of 2020 in a socially distant environment, and options to go to the gym or other favorite work out class were limited, unless they were online. Better Business Bureau is ringing in 2021 with tips to help people avoid falling prey to overstated weight-loss advertisements and scams. The desire to get in shape or lose weight fast creates a risk of being deceived by products that do not work as advertised, come with a host of unwanted side effects, or cause weight gain instead.

Any time you see miracle claims for weight loss, be very skeptical. There is no such thing as a ‘secret ingredient’ or ‘breakthrough formula’ that can result in weight loss virtually overnight.

The Federal Trade Commission noted in an October 2019 report that more consumers fell victim to scams involving fraudulent weight loss products in 2017 than to any other type of fraud included in the survey. According to the report, victims of weight loss scams made up 2.6 percent of the survey participants, representing 6.5 million U.S. adults. These survey respondents reported purchasing and using products such as body wraps, topical creams, dietary supplements, skin patches, and even earrings promising to “melt,” “flush,” “burn,” or “dissolve” away unwanted fat.

Promotions advertising “miraculous” weight loss products and promising immediate results should be viewed as potential scams. These products, if delivered as promised, are often ineffective in delivering their promised results, or worse, can have potentially dangerous side effects.

Fraudulent weight loss products are often advertised alongside images of celebrities and fake endorsements. Additionally, deceptive free trial offers are very common, as investigated in a 2018 BBB study. The study reported that consumers filed nearly 37,000 complaints and BBB ScamTracker reports related to deceptive free trial offers and fake celebrity endorsements since 2015, with an average loss per victim of $186.

Many consumer complaints described weight loss programs as difficult to cancel, even if the product doesn’t work as claimed in the ads.

Some consumers say they believed they were making a one-time purchase but then received recurring charges to their credit cards for more of the product. When they contacted customer service, they were informed that they had signed up for a subscription, which was only disclosed in the fine print of the terms and conditions of their original purchase.

In other, similar complaints, consumers described being notified of an additional shipment of the weight loss product that they did not order. When they tried to contact the company to cancel, the company claimed the item had already shipped, and the consumer struggled to receive a refund for the shipped product.

Many consumers also filed complaints after being unable to reach the weight loss goals stated in advertising for the product.

To help avoid weight loss scams, BBB recommends the following:

  • Always be wary of advertisements and customer endorsements promising “miracle” results or immediate weight loss. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, evidence suggests a gradual loss of 1-2 pounds per week is a healthy goal and is more successful for achieving long-term weight loss. Ask your doctor what an achievable weight loss goal for you would be.
  • Determine your fitness goals. It’s hard work to lose weight. Find a program you can stick with, preferably one that you enjoy. Does a weight loss plan require special foods? Can you cancel if you move or find that the program doesn’t meet your needs or is more expensive than anticipated?
  • Avoid products that claim to help lose weight without diet or exercise. Be especially skeptical of claims that you don’t have to give up favorite foods or reduce the amount you consume. Doctors, dieticians and other experts agree that losing weight takes work. Pass up any product that promises miraculous results without any effort.
  • Check a product’s ingredients with the FDA. Be suspicious of taking special pills, powders or herbs. Some products have been recalled for containing ingredients with potentially dangerous effects. Check the list of public notifications from the FDA regarding potentially harmful weight loss products.
    - Be wary of a lack of ingredient list. Some companies have been accused of not advertising certain ingredients that can come with harmful side effects or mix adversely with prescription drugs.
  • Read all terms and conditions for any weight loss product. Before clicking check out or purchase, make sure the cart only includes the items you wish to purchase, and does not include signing up for a subscription, unless this is an option want. Be cautious of any contract that takes payment from your credit card until you cancel.
  • When participating in online forums and chat rooms focused on weight loss and fitness topics, be wary of individuals pushing products they claim will help quickly reach goals.
  • Research the company with the BBB before purchasing. Read reviews about the company to see if there are any complaints alleging that it’s a scam.
  • Be wary of free trial offers, and before signing up, understand all the terms and conditions. These deals can become “subscription traps” that hook consumers into expensive shipments of products they did not agree to buy.
  • Report the deceptive ads. Be suspicious of ridiculously positive testimonials on the company website. Testimonials become an easy marketing tool and are easily faked. These are often accompanied by glorious before and after pictures. Call your BBB to report suspicious, confusing or misleading ads to BBB Ad Truth or report a scam with BBB ScamTracker. Consumers can also report the ad to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling 877-FTC-Help.
    You can also report fake ads to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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