Weight-loss fraud is flooding the marketplace. Fraudulent weight-loss claims can be found in almost every communications medium — television, radio, print, mail and the Internet.
Modern con artists annually cheat Americans out of an estimated $10-$40 billion in weight-loss fraud alone. They target and exploit vulnerable children, teens, and low income consumers desperate to find a solution to their weight problems. It causes numerous injuries and deaths annually and fosters fear and distrust among those who truly need help.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of complacency about weight- loss fraud. Regulatory agencies site budget restraints and more pressing problems as reasons for not being more concerned about this type of fraud. And, according to the Healthy Weight Journal, many consumers don’t complain because they don’t feel it will do any good and only draws more attention to their weight problem and failures.
It increases health risks, financial costs, emotional risks, promotes paranoia and interferes with responsible programs.
“Misplaced belief in weight-loss quackery and fad diets not only cost consumers money, it batters their self esteem and can be psychologically damaging,” said Helen Herndon-Jones, a regional nutrition agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. “Repeated attempts to lose weight, followed by the inevitable regain, bring shame and a sense of failure and powerlessness to the customer.”
Identifying fraudulent weight-loss products or programs.
Most fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Claim or imply a large, fast weight loss, often promised as easy, effortless, guaranteed or permanent.
- Imply weight can be lost without restricting calories or exercising and discounts the benefits of exercise.
- Use typical quackery terms such as miraculous, breakthrough, exclusive, secret, ancient, from the Orient, accidental discovery or doctor developed.
- Claim to get rid of cellulite. Rely heavily on undocumented case histories, before and after photos and testimonials by satisfied customers. Most of these are paid for their testimony by the promoter. And, if you notice the “before” pictures show full body and the “after” pictures are usually from the waist or chest up.
- Misuse medical or technical terms, refer to studies without giving complete references, claim government approval.
- Profess to be a treatment for a wide range of ailments and nutritional deficiencies as well as weight loss.
- Make claims that ingredients will surround calories, starch, carbohydrate or fat and remove them from the body.
- Fail to state risks or recommend a medical exam.
- Promote aids and gadgets such as body wraps, sauna belts, electronic stimulators, passive motion tables, aromatherapy, appetite patches, earrings, accupressure devices or acupuncture.
- Sold by self-proclaimed health advisors often door to door, in health food stores or chiropractor offices.
- Use high-pressure sale tactics, one-time only deals or recruitment for a pyramid sales organization.
- Demand large advance payments or long-term contracts. Payment should be pay-as-you-go, or refundable.
- Distribute through hard-sell mail order advertisements, infomercials or ads which list an 800 number without an address.
What should you do if you’ve been scammed?
The first place to go is the consumer protection department of your state attorney general’s office. To make a stronger impact, repeat your complaints to federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, Postal Inspector; U.S. Food and Drug Administration Consumer Affairs and Information, FDA MedWatch or Consumer Product Safety Commission.