Watch out for weight loss scams

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning consumers to beware of weight loss scams when looking to fulfil a new year’s resolution.

“Scammers are experts at preying upon people’s vulnerabilities and try to take advantage of people’s good intentions to improve their health in the New Year. Unfortunately if you fall for this scam, the only place you will feel lighter is your wallet,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.

These scams promise dramatic weight loss for little or no effort. They typically involve an unusual or restrictive diet, revolutionary exercise, a ‘fat-busting’ device or breakthrough pills, patches or creams. They’re advertised online or via mail order with enticing claims such as ‘lose 30 kilos in 30 days’ or ‘lose weight while you sleep’, usually accompanied by bogus before and after pictures.

“These scams suggest that you can achieve amazing results without having to do any extra exercise or even modify your diet. They lack any scientific evidence or demonstrated links between the program, food, supplement, gadget or process being promoted – and the result,” Dr Schaper said.

Last year, the ACCC received 173 contacts about weight loss scams – a 50 per cent increase on the previous year. Total reported losses in 2013 were over $20,000, a 70 per cent increase on 2012. Over 70 per cent of people who have come into contact with this scam have lost money and the average individual loss is $165.

“At the beginning of every year, the ACCC receives an increase in contacts from the public about weight loss scams. The most common things being complained about are people engaging in a free trial of a weight loss products then incurring extra charges and being signed up to hidden subscriptions,” Dr Schaper said.

“Victims report being unable to contact the billing companies involved and are therefore unable to cancel the subscriptions or stop the charges occurring. Some victims mention that even if they get a chargeback from the bank, new charges have appeared at a later date.”

Dr Schaper warned that some of the weight loss products or schemes offered by scammers can have very serious consequences for your health.

“Be very careful about advertised offers for medicines, supplements or other treatments and always check first with a health care professional such as a dietician or your local GP.”

“Remember that there are no magic pills for rapid weight loss so be very sceptical about claims of effortless, large or fast weight loss. Find out what evidence is used to support claims made for the product and do not rely only on testimonials from people who have used the product as they may profit from selling you the product and may mislead you to do so,” Dr Schaper said.

If you have resolved to lose weight in 2014, discuss your options with a health care professional. If you think you have fallen victim to a scam, contact your bank or financial institution immediately. Report the scam to SCAMwatch.

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