Weight-Loss Scams That Lighten Your Wallet (Not Your Scale)

Measuring weight on a scaleThe new calendar heralds a return to the most popular New Year’s resolution — to lose weight. Yet despite the $2.5 billion a year spent on weight-loss products and services, the only result for many is a lighter wallet.

Through most of the past decade until 2011, when the Federal Trade Commission classified complaints by “product category,” more people were defrauded buying supposed “miracle” supplements and toning creams, “easy” exercise gizmos and “breakthrough” diets than any other type of products.

To spot the scams, get wise to these common lies:

* Lose weight without dieting or exercise! For real results, experts recommend shedding about 500 calories per day through dieting and/or exercise for a safe and realistic 1- or 2-pound loss per week. Get started at MyPyramid.gov.

* Lose 30 pounds in 30 days (or other specific numbers)! At best, products promising lightning-fast weight loss are a scam, says the FTC. At worst, they can ruin your health. Besides, no product or plan can “guarantee” specific loss amounts, since everyone is different.

* Burn fat while you sleep with our pill! Even pills that the Food and Drug Administration has approved to block the absorption of fat or make you feel full with less food are intended to be used in conjunction with a diet and regular exercise regimen.

* Lose weight permanently! Never diet again! Even if you’re successful in dropping pounds, permanent weight loss requires permanent lifestyle changes, notes the FTC. Don’t trust any product that promises once-and-for-all results without ongoing maintenance.

* Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream! There’s no evidence that any skin-applied product helps with weight loss.

To make matters worse, these (and similar) false claims are often advertised with “scientific” studies that may be exaggerated, if not fictionalized (so authenticate them with an online search of the researcher’s name or study citation, or ask your health care providers).

Phony testimonials from celebrities or other consumers are another popular ploy, especially when placed on social media or websites that appear to belong to a legitimate news organization or other independent party but are actually run by marketers. (Also be wary of advertisements — as opposed to bona fide reports — on authentic media websites; they should be clearly marked.)

>> Get discounts on financial services with your AARP Member Advantages.

But the real gotcha with some bogus weight-loss products comes with so-called free trials. After you provide your credit card for a small shipping-and-handling charge, your plastic may be pilfered for identity theft or bombarded with recurring charges as you receive multiple “monthly” orders shipped within days of one another for merchandise you wanted — and perhaps other stuff you never asked for.

And remember: With most free trials, the cancellation window starts the moment you place your order, not when you receive it. In some cases unscrupulous vendors purposely don’t ship initial “free trial” orders until after the period has ended in hopes that you can’t cancel in time.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

Photo: Tomasz Trojanowski/Thinkstock

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