En español | Two women in their 80s just lost more than $200 each in keto diet pill scams. These cases see fraudsters promise pills that supposedly will help dieters shed pounds faster than just adhering to a keto diet's high-fat, low-carbohydrate regimen. Keto is a popular — and controversial — weight-loss craze.
Since March, AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline has logged more than 25 reports of keto pill scams, an uptick from previous months, says AARP's Amy Nofziger, who oversees the free helpline, 1-877-908-3360. She says the helpline has heard from victims who lost more than $1,000 in diet pill scams generally.
The two octogenarians who lost cash, not pounds, tell cautionary tales as many people are struggling to lose “pandemic pounds” put on while self-isolating and avoiding the gym. The women shared their ordeals amid long-standing warnings from federal officials that weight-loss scams are common and put consumers at risk of losing more than cash, since dietary supplements can jeopardize one's health.
Pop-up ad spells trouble
Marjorie, 83, who lives near Tulsa, Oklahoma, says her story began with a pop-up ad on her smartphone. The ad for Ultra Pure 360 claimed the pills would help her quickly lose more weight than a keto diet alone. The ad touted a 30-day supply of keto pills for the cost of shipping, $6.95, saying the pills would be free if the order was cancelled within 30 days.
At first she noticed her debit card was used twice to pay the $6.95 shipping, for a total of $13.90. Then the pills arrived along with a so-called “cleanse” that she did not order; she was charged $189.90 for the products, bringing her total costs to $203.80. “I was knocked off my feet when I found out how expensive it was,” says Marjorie, a pensioner who earlier worked in employee training for the federal government.
About two weeks after she placed the order, she called a phone number on her invoice to cancel the purchase. No luck. “I was told I would have to try the product for the full 30 days,” Marjorie remembers.
Similar voice, two names
At the one-month mark, she called back and spoke to a man who gave his name as “Sam.” He offered her a 50 percent discount for the pills, but she insisted on getting all her money back. Sam refused to transfer her to his supervisor, so she hung up and called back.
This time the man who answered sounded like Sam, but identified himself as “Eon.” He offered a steeper discount, which Marjorie declined. She asked to speak to his supervisor, but Eon said no one was available because everyone was working from home due to COVID-19.
When AARP called the phone number to ask about Marjorie's experience, a woman on the line gave her name as “Hazel” and called herself a “senior representative.” When asked her full name and to speak to someone about a fraud allegation, the line went dead. (A writer left her contact information with “Tony” on a follow-up call, but no one called back.)
Credit union says money is lost
When Marjorie reached out to her credit union, she was told that because she'd used a debit card, she could not recover her cash. Now she wishes she'd used a credit card. Federal law affords consumers more protections for credit-card purchases; in fraud cases, consumers generally are on the hook for up to $50 only. Refunds are harder to obtain when debit cards are used.
Having canceled her old debit card and obtained a new one (with a different number) to prevent more unwanted charges, she wants to prevent others from falling victim. “I'm embarrassed,” she says, “but I want to warn others.”
Similar scam, different victim
The second woman, Elizabeth, 89, who lives amid the mountains of North Carolina, used a credit card to buy keto diet pills. Now she's fighting for a credit of $235. (The two women spoke to AARP on the condition their surnames not be used.)
Her saga also started with a pop-up, like the countless ads she'd ignored in the past. Once the pills arrived, she never opened the bottle. “You don't know how much this upsets me,” the former social-services intake supervisor says now. “Yes, it wasn't $20,000, or even $2,000, [but] the amount is not the point."
Cannot return unopened bottle of pills
Elizabeth spent hours on the phone with the company that mailed the pills to try to return them, but was told she could not do that. Instead she was offered a 35 percent discount.
When she insisted on returning the pills, she was told to fill out a request form and did so repeatedly to no avail. The company's addresses are post office boxes in Arizona and California, according to Elizabeth, who sent letters to both places but never received a response.
At first her credit card company said that since she'd authorized the payment, she was responsible for it. Now the charge is being disputed.
The women are not alone, as complaints from consumers who lost money in keto scams are all over the web.
Consumer agency issues warning
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been warning against such scams for years. In 2014 the agency said: “The reality: The company can't support — or deliver on — those weight-loss claims. If you give your credit or debit account number, you get charged $60 to $210 every month — and it's almost impossible to get a refund. On top of that, you get enrolled in offers you didn't ask for — with more monthly charges."
Know the warning signs
Officials at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warn that dietary supplements do not require approval before they are marketed. Officials urge consumers to watch for these warning signs:
- Promises of a quick fix, for example, “lose 10 pounds in one week."
- Use of the words “guaranteed” or “scientific breakthrough."
- Products marketed through mass e-mails or in a foreign language.
- Products marketed as herbal alternatives to an FDA-approved drug, or as having effects similar to prescription drugs.
AARP's Nofziger has another bit of advice: If you're considering a dietary supplement, first talk to your health care provider to see if it is advisable, particularly in light of your prescription medications.
Fake Endorsements for Keto Pills Rile Celebrities
Model, actress and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen complained last year that her identity had been hijacked by a firm selling keto diet pills on Snapchat.
In response, she fired back in profanity-laced tweets about the company as she alerted fans that she made no such endorsement. She also threatened a lawsuit over the phony endorsement.
Snapchat responded by saying: “We have a zero tolerance policy for fraudulent ads that feature fake celebrity endorsements.” It also removed the ad and suspended the company that made the bogus claim from its platform.
Entrepreneur Lori Greiner, a star of ABC's Shark Tank, likewise was victimized and last year begged fans to help put an end to the keto endorsements featuring her on social media.
"Beware & please share: I do not do any keto products,” she tweeted in all caps “My image & name are being used on FAKE Facebook/Instagram/Twitter ads."
Greiner, who uses the Twitter handle @LoriGreiner, says at the start of her profile: “Warning- I DON'T do Keto or Diet Products!"
A Better Business Bureau (BBB) report in December 2018 said dozens of celebrity names have been used without their knowledge or permission, including Teigen, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Allen and Sally Field, to tout products that purport to help with weight loss, combat wrinkles or whiten teeth.
Many so-called “risk-free” trials aren't free, so pay close attention to the fine print on the invoice or in a hyperlink, the BBB warned.