More than 100 million Americans were watching their diet to lose weight in 2019, according to survey data from consumer research firm MRI-Simmons. Figures like that fuel a U.S. weight-loss industry worth more than $70 billion a year — and a widespread trade in dubious products that will reduce only your bank account.
Bogus diet products and programs rank No. 1 among health care scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), accounting for more than a third of such complaints in 2020.
On-the-make marketers deploy a variety of tricks to get people to purchase their wares. Some create websites that look like those of legitimate magazines and news organizations and fill them with phony articles claiming celebrities have achieved amazing results from various diet pills or herbal supplements.
Others utilize social media, posting bogus stories or quietly paying "influencers" to promote unproven products, as did one Florida outfit that sold more than $15 million worth of supposedly slimming teas before it was shut down by the FTC in March 2020.
These swindles don’t just peddle disappointment to people eager to shed pounds; some pose health risks from harmful hidden ingredients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has discovered that numerous weight-loss products contain drugs such as sibutramine, a controlled substance that was taken off the market because, among other dangers, it can significantly increase blood pressure and heart rate and raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Even “free” trial offers can do damage to your wallet, because they often come with big hidden charges. You might be unwittingly enrolled in a costly subscription plan. If you sign up for monthly orders, the bill for them might come due all at once, along with charges for items you didn’t ask for. Marketers may offer no-risk, money-back guarantees, but the FTC warns that unsatisfied consumers will find it almost impossible to cancel or get a refund.