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How to Spot Weight-Loss Scams

Want to know what's too good to be true? Here's how you can find out

Can you spot a weight-loss scam? What are the warning signs? Did you know that of the top 10 fraud categories that hook Americans each year, weight-loss scams place first?

Woman standing on scale.

Offers that ensure weight loss without exercise are scams. — Getty Images

When considering whether to spend your hard-earned money on a product or service, the oft-repeated adage still holds true: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

On the positive side, a flood of information on the health consequences of being overweight has helped alert millions of Americans to the need for weight loss — a necessary message given that two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight. But the resulting demand for weight-loss products has, inevitably, spawned a vibrant market in scams.

Aside from stealing your money, some scams can be dangerous to your health. The first key to avoiding scams is spotting them. Here are three tips for spotting weight-loss scams:

  • Any product or service that promises to eliminate a certain amount of weight every day, week or month ("Lose a pound a day!") is almost certainly a scam. There is no proven way for any product to guarantee a specific weight-loss amount.
  • Offers that ensure weight loss without exercise are scams. The exception: a simple eat-fewer-calories-than-you-burn plan, for which you don't need a product or service. Just go to MyPyramid.gov; enter your age, sex, height, weight and exercise level; and craft your daily diet from there.
  • Products that purport to "burn fat" while you sleep or laze around are fraudulent, dangerous or both. Excess fat results from excess calories. While we do burn calories at rest, the only way to accelerate that burn is through physical exertion or substances that speed our metabolism. The U.S. government has not approved for sale any such substances.

As you can see, scams typically include an unspecified research breakthrough, unrealistic claims, effortless weight loss and a wide range of benefits unrelated to weight loss. Scammers also ask for payment up front — no risk-free product trials here; they're counting on the fact that most dissatisfied customers will not bother to request a refund.

If you need to lose weight, begin with a health care professional, such as a dietitian or your physician. Check to see if your hospital has a wellness center that offers free or low-cost education on healthy strategies for weight loss.

Independent of what any advertisement claims, the rules for losing weight remain unchanged: Exercise regularly and consume fewer calories each day than your body burns. Any sales pitch that tries to persuade you otherwise is a scam.

Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.

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