Every new year, a wave of trendy New Year’s resolution scams surface to capitalize on consumer’s New Year’s resolution goals, like weight loss. Consumers who want to get in shape or lose weight are at risk of being deceived from products that do not work as advertised or come with a host of unwanted side effects and trapped in monthly subscription fees.
New products like topical creams, dietary supplements, workout gadgets and appetite suppressants flood the market, promising consumers spectacular weight-loss results. These risk-free schemes often start with an ad for a free product or with an article that seems to appear on a credible news site. Consumers just need to enter their name, address and credit card number, and the product will be on its way for only a nominal shipping and handling charge. Fraudsters have turned such offers into a global multi-billion-dollar industry, one that grows every year.
A 2018 BBB study, “Subscription Traps and Deceptive Free Trials Scam Millions with Misleading Ads and Fake Celebrity Endorsements,” reported that consumers filed nearly 37,000 complaints and BBB ScamTracker reports since 2015 with an average loss of $186. Through October 2019, BBB received more than 6,600 complaints and reports from consumers in the U.S. and Canada about free trial offers. The BBB study found many of the celebrity product endorsements it investigated were fake and that sometimes the fine print even admitted the endorsements were not real. Major lawsuits have been issued against companies using celebrity imagery and name to endorse products like skin lotions. Shark Tank investor Lori Greiner recently warned consumers of a Keto Pill Scam using her credibility to sell dietary supplements.
Your Better Business Bureau offers these tips to help you evaluate weight-loss supplements and other weight-loss products and avoid free trial scams:
• Research the company before signing up. Many of these companies have “F” ratings with BBB. Check the product or company name by calling or visiting our website to see if there are any complaints and to check if it’s a scam.
• Be wary of free trial offers. These deals can become “subscription traps” that hook consumers into expensive shipments of products they did not explicitly agree to buy.
• Read all the terms and conditions of any free trial offer. Know if there is a cancellation period and return policy.
• Look out for fake celebrity endorsements of products and supplements. Research the celebrity claiming to endorse the product to see if they are really backing it. Most scams use images without their consent and use a celebrity’s name for creditability for skincare lotions and for weight loss supplements.
• Call your credit card company for a refund. If you think you have been the victim of a free trial offer scam, speak with your credit card company. Some companies may issue a refund for the money lost.
• Report the fake ads. Call your BBB to report suspicious, confusing or misleading ads to BBB Ad Truth or to BBB ScamTracker. Consumers can also report the ad to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or by calling 877-FTC-Help.
Free trial offers can be legitimate ways to introduce new products. Credible companies make sure consumers understand what they are signing up for and do not hide key information. Under the Restore Online Shopper’s Confidence Act, companies must clearly lay out the terms of free trials or other subscriptions before consumers give their credit card information.
For more information, see the Federal Trade Commission’s video on free trial offer scams.