Skip to content
 

FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

Weight-Loss Scams

En español | 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 nearly a third of such complaints in the first threee quarters of 2020.

Have you seen this scam?

Sign up for Watchdog Alerts for more tips on avoiding scams.

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.

Warning Signs

  • Advertisements tout weight-loss products with hyperbolic terms such as “miracle,” “revolutionary” or “scientific breakthrough.”
  • A product or program promises you’ll lose a specific amount of weight per day, week or month.
  • Claims sound too good to be true, such as that you can lose weight while eating as much as you want.

Do's

  • Do seek advice from a trustworthy source, such as your doctor or a dietitian, before you buy a weight-loss product. A professional can help you figure out whether the item is safe and effective or suggest better ways to lose those pounds.
  • Do a fact-check. If a product claims to be backed by scientific studies, look them up. Do they exist? Have the results been described accurately? Are the researchers credible?
  • Do check out a weight-loss company’s reputation by searching the Better Business Bureau database.
  • Do be wary of weight-loss products touted as “natural” or “herbal.” The Maryland Attorney General’s office cautions that those words don’t necessarily mean “safe” or “wholesome,” and some herbal ingredients are toxic in certain doses.
  • Do carefully scrutinize the terms if you sign up online for a free trial of something. Watch for pre-checked boxes that authorize the company to charge you for regular orders or additional products.

Don'ts

  • Don’t trust marketing claims that a product can help you lose weight without changing your diet or exercise habits.
  • Don’t buy weight-loss body wraps, patches, creams, lotions or gadgets. According to the FTC, “Nothing you wear or apply to the skin can cause substantial weight loss.”
  • Don’t trust endorsements from users who supposedly have achieved impressive weight loss. The FTC warns that marketers too often “cherry-pick their best cases or even make up bogus endorsements.”

More Resources

  • Report weight-loss scams to the FTC (online or at 877-382-4357) and to your state attorney general's office.
  • The FDA regularly issues warnings about tainted weight-loss products that contain hidden, potentially harmful substances.

Updated October 27, 2020

About the Fraud Watch Network

Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.

More From the Fraud Resource Center

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.