However, dangerous products, counterfeit goods, auto-ship scams, free trials, fake reviews – we’ve seen them all, and with our Watchdog nose for a scam and our vast experience in reviewing literally thousands of products, we can help you avoid getting caught out online.
So take a look at our DPWD guide to diet pill scams and find out how to avoid them.
The free trial scam is the one that catches out many people, if our Watchdog postbag is anything to go by. We receive hundreds of complaints from customers telling us about signing up to free trial offers that turn out to be anything but free. In fact, costs to the individual customer can run into hundreds of pounds or dollars.
According to David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection,
The fact that almost four million consumers fell prey to the lure of these ‘free trial’ offers is a stark reminder that ‘free’ offers can come at a huge price.
If it has already happened to you, don’t beat yourself up. You are not alone and the free trial offer scam often looks very convincing.
The free trial scam is actually incredibly simple. You find a website for a supplement that offers to send you a trial so that you can try out a supplement for free!!
We all love getting a freebie and we trust that once we have tried out the diet pill we wouldn’t actually have to buy it. There is often a feeling that we are getting one over on the company by taking something for free.
In most cases, you will not have stumbled across this free trial scam website by accident. These scam artists usually do their groundwork first by advertising the supplement with banner ads on legitimate websites, including very honest and trustful sites.
So it can all look very convincing, and, because the supplement is often widely advertised, we all tend to believe it is legitimate and simply trying to drum up interest and future sales.
Once you click on the page of the scam website and see the free trial offer, well, we tend to act first and think later if something looks too good to miss.
The landing page will be full of urgent messages driving you to the page where you fill in your address details so that the company knows where to “Rush Your Order”. Sometimes it is advertised that stocks are limited and that it is important to claim your free trial before supplies run out.
Once you have completed your address details, you then have to fill in the payment page with your bank or credit card details in order to pay for your postage.
This is generally around $4.99 or £4.50, and because you are getting a free trial, paying for the postage seems O.K.
Once you have given the company your credit card or bank details, your free product will arrive in the mail as promised, and as far as most people are concerned this is the end of the story.
Wrong. It is just the beginning.
What these scam artists are banking on (quite literally) is that you will not have spent time reading through the lengthy terms and conditions. The so-called free trial will refer to a brief time period, usually around 14 – 20 days after shipping the product. It doesn’t mean that your supplement is actually free!
If the company does not hear from you, this means you have already agreed that you are happy to buy this supplement for the full price each and every month. You might not think that you have agreed to anything, but you actually did this when you ticked or ignored the box saying you agreed to terms and conditions.
This type of tricksy business practice is called Negative Option Marketing. It means that simply doing nothing (because you are unaware that you have to) shows that you agree.
Here is an example of negative option marketing that we saw with a supplement called Alpha Force that we recently covered. Take a look at the small print that we found buried away in the terms and conditions.
By entering your account information and clicking the SUBMIT button, you agree to the offer terms and authorize Alpha Force to charge your account at the end of the 18 day trial and with each monthly shipment on the terms described above.
Hang on! It seems the free trial is not as free as it first appeared.
Essentially, the free trial only lasts for a short time period after you placed your order. In this case, it is 18 days after you placed your order.
After the “free trial period” you will be charged the full price of the supplement, plus you will receive further shipments of the supplement every 30 days, and your bank or credit card billed the full amount each time.
Many customers have lost hundreds of dollars/pounds over free trial scams. It is a nightmare trying to get out of one of these sign-ups, as it is virtually impossible to get hold of the company involved. (This is one of the main reasons we also advise to never deal with ANY company who doesn’t show their real address – we cover this point in the Dodgy Address section of the guide.)
If this has happened to you very recently, you will have a short period of time – the duration of the “free trial” period – to prevent the situation from escalating. There may be some contact details such as a phone number you can call in order to cancel, and, if the company have rules in place (such as returning the empty bottles by post), if you act quickly, you may be able to comply with their rules and cancel your agreement.
However, there is sometimes an added twist to the scam. Often there are no contact details provided. If there is a customer service phone number you may find it is unavailable. It could be based overseas. You could even find it does not exist and all the time you cannot contact the company to cancel the auto-ship, time towards your next payment and the next delivery is approaching.
If you get scammed in this way, you should report the problem to your bank as soon as possible. The continuous payment authorities that these supplement companies use are extremely hard for customers to stop, but your bank must stop payments if you ask them.
A high profile case has highlighted how bad this is. Recently, the US Government caught and convicted a notorious free trial scammer by the name of Jesse Willms. He, along with several other diet pill scammers from Utah, was said to be involved in fraud worth nearly half a billion dollars.
The final figure was actually a fine of $359 million, which is a staggering amount of money. Not all of this was diet related, but a huge part was. This is just one example of how much money the free trial diet pill scammers make.
A settlement order, reached as part of the FTC’s ongoing efforts to stamp out online marketing fraud, permanently bans Jesse Willms and his companies from using “negative-option” marketing, a practice in which the seller interprets consumers’ silence or inaction as permission to charge them.
Supplements sold via this scam are NEVER cheap.
Cancelling your bank card is not necessarily enough, because if you have paid by debit card the agreement will simply transfer to the new card via your bank account.
If you have already been scammed, then it is crucial to ensure that your bank stops all future payments. You may not get all your money back, but at least it will stop any further damage. (Check out our guide to getting a refund from diet pill scams right here: https://www.dietpillswatchdog.com/guide-to-refunds-from-free-trial-diet-pill-scams/)
David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, reported,
The FTC has stopped about $1 billion in online marketing fraud during the past two years by shutting down operations like this. But consumers still need to beware, because scam artists are constantly coming up with new ways to deceive people online.
Avoid the temptation of getting something for free and stay away from free trial offers.
Fake news sites are glossy looking websites with news feeds that look pretty much identical to reputable news agencies such as the BBC or CNN. The difference is that these fake news sites are run by scammers looking to get you to buy a certain supplement or diet pill.
This scam has died down a little after a crackdown by the FTC, but it did catch out thousands of unwary consumers and will undoubtedly continue to be a problem to many. We can’t see these scammers willingly giving up a lucrative scam after all.
How it works is simple. The website is set up to look like a genuine news site and what looks like a breaking news clip is inserted onto the site giving the impression that it is a genuine reporter reporting in on a story. Sometimes they feature a TV personality – French TV star Melissa Theuriau was routinely pictured on scam sites. She is not well known outside France, but she has the right media look.
The common theme amongst these sites is that they promise huge weight loss with very little effort, and have lurid headlines promising all sorts:
Lose weight without diet or exercise!
Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!
Block the absorption of fat, carbs, or calories!
Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
Everybody will lose weight!
Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!
Because the claims seem to come from a genuine news source, even if it is one you don’t know, people are far more likely to believe them. After all, reputable newspapers often make wild health claims too. We are used to seeing health and weight loss issues on the front page of the tabloids, so we tend to believe it is news and not just advertising.
An addition to this type of site is the use of a news video clip tucked in a prominent position on a website. This will reinforce the claims made by the advertising and give a product greater credibility.
Many raspberry ketones, green coffee, and Garcinia cambogia supplements actually used genuine video clips of Dr. Oz talking about these so-called miracle ingredients. Although the videos were genuine, Dr. Oz never endorsed the supplements to buy.
Once you have swallowed the story and go to the buying page, there is every possibility you will be signed up to auto-ship.
Don’t believe fake news sites or companies that use news clips. They may look credible, but they are not.
We covered the free trial scam, but auto-ship, although part of this scam, is a little different. Auto-ship is where a company sends you regular supplies of your chosen supplement each month and bills your credit card or bank account automatically.
Most companies want you to sign up for auto-ship. They often give this option a name such as the VIP Program or Preferred Customer Program, or something similar. There is always an advantage for the customer, such as a reduced discount price and/or free shipping.
This is a perfectly legal option, and some customers who want to receive regular orders and benefit from discounts are happy to do it. Many companies are completely upfront about it and will offer auto-shipping as an additional buying option. They explain their cancellation policy so that you know how to stop it, once you wish to cancel.
However, some less than reputable companies make this option exceedingly difficult to cancel. Once you have signed up for auto-shipping, the payments for the supplements will be taken from your bank or credit card each month. The companies that will not make this easy to cancel employ tricks such as nonexistent customer phone lines or telling you that you have to give notice that you wish to cancel.
We contacted Barclays for some more specialised advice and they were very helpful. Unsurprisingly, they knew about diet pill scams already.
They said that they could stop continuous payments and dispute historic payments if the customer did not receive the goods. They also advised that if you returned the unwanted merchandise, and provided proof of posting, the bank would dispute the payment on your behalf. Obviously, if you do not have a return address this might not be as easy.
If the payment is refused by the bank or card, you could be visited by debt collectors.
The bottom line is that you should be exceedingly careful in signing up to auto-ship. If you feel this is something you must do (and we don’t advise it), check through the terms and conditions and contact the company before you give your bank details. Is it as easy to cancel as they claim? Sometimes it is not.
Don’t sign up for auto-shipping, even if this option appears to give you a discount price.
When you buy online, you never really know where your diet pill, or anything else, is actually coming from.
You could be buying from what looks like a major corporation, but turns out to be being run from a bedroom or private house. We have seen so-called diet pill companies being operated from work addresses and more.
Does this matter? It is a little deceptive for a diet pill company to post a picture of their company HQ, a ritzy office block with palm trees outside, that turns out to be an architect’s office in downtown Mumbai, but it is not the worst crime. The company obviously wants to look impressive, and a business run from a flat in Swindon just does not have the same appeal. However, it is important that you can find a real brick and mortar business address and contact details that work.
If an online company does not provide a proper physical address or any real contact details, how can you trust them not to simply disappear with your money?
There is a question of safety too. How can you trust a company that is selling you supplements that you will take into your body, if they will not tell you where they are? They might be trying to hide and will simply vanish when too many customers start suffering from side effects and complaining about it.
Trust is important. You should always know that the company selling supplements is whom they claim to be and where they are located.
If there is a money-back guarantee on offer (which is something you should always look for), you will need to have a returns address.
We have also seen many sites that have shown the address of their fulfillment company. These are the people who ship the diet pills out to you, not necessarily the people behind the scam itself. If you try to get hold of the company through this address, it is simply passed on to someone else.
The bottom line is that you should have proper contact details that you can call if you are buying directly from a private company. Not just an email address or live chat. Not just the company that handles the shipping either, because this would be like blaming the postal service for delivering your supplement.
Avoid buying supplements from sites that do not publish their contact details.
Recently the FTC has been clamping down on fake review sites of all types because they are so misleading and deceptive to customers.
A recent lawsuit uncovered a scam that was run by a company trying to sell trampolines. The scammers set up fake organizations, such as Trampoline Safety of America, which rated the trampoline sold by the scam company as the safest model in the USA.
There were links to blogs and many other nonexistent trade organizations, which also gave the scammers’ trampoline the highest possible rating. These guys certainly did their groundwork, and it created such a buzz that it led to numerous customers choosing the scammers’ product because it seemed so reputable.
Eventually the scam was traced back to two brothers who are now facing a fine of a whopping $40,654 for each violation. The costs could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Although this is the most recent court case associated with fake review sites, we have seen this going on with diet pills for years.
In general, the unsuspecting customer will land on a fake review site by clicking on a paid advert, or via a site ranking high in the search engines. The customer will then see a supposedly independent review of a supplement. This could be by a so-called diet pill expert, or via a private individual blogging about a positive experience with the supplement.
The diet pill scammers will set up a lot of fake review sites and, although there may be some other diet pills on offer, ALL of the reviews of the chosen product will be rated very highly. This is because the products that are being rated all belong to the same people who have overall control of the review sites.
This is against FTC rules. There is nothing wrong with affiliate marketing, where a private individual or company tries to lead customers to buy a certain product, but review sites must declare that they are being paid or receiving a commission on sales. However, none of the fake review sites do this.
A fake review site can be hard to spot, and it is a problem for consumers, who get the impression that a supplement is genuine and reputable. Once the customer does a Google search for a supplement and is met with lots of positive hits and reviews, it creates a buzz about a product which has been totally manipulated by the scammers.
Normally, a big giveaway is the payment processor they use, because the same review sites reviewing the same products all send the traffic to the same payment processor. This is why we try and do in-depth research in this area, the more the FTC can crack down on this, the better it is going to be for everyone.
Another warning sign to look for is if the diet pill site doesn’t show a valid address where they can be contacted. This normally means they have something to hide; in this case they are trying to hide the links between themselves and the fake review sites.
In the USA, the FTC is cracking down on fake review sites of all types. Until they catch up with the scammers, this is going to be an issue for customers. They are difficult to spot, but often there will be clues, including strange website addresses built around the product name, or a “fly by night” flavour of the various blogs. If a blog has been established and has only reviewed one product, it is likely to be a fake and is just one of many that have been set up to manipulate customer opinion.
Never buy diet pills from fake review sites.
A big part of diet pill advertising relies on visual images, usually of attractive people on a beach or a gym somewhere, which is fine.
What is not as good is if the models on show are implied to be genuine customers. Sometimes there is a small print disclaimer saying something like “results not typical”. This is not always the case though, and some are so blatantly made up that it is impossible to believe them.
Another giveaway that it is normally a scam is that they show pictures of random people and put another disclaimer that it is “stock photography”. This is a clever trick to make you associate the weight loss results with the nice-looking person in the picture. If you see a site doing this then it’s best to avoid whatever they are trying to sell.
That said, before and after pictures are not always authentic either. Sometimes there is a little story to go with the pictures that tells of a successful weight loss journey and the use of the diet pill which made it all possible. It all looks very convincing and inspirational. If they can do it, so can we. That is, if we buy the diet pill that helped make it happen.
Some genuine companies use this device to show the sort of results that can be achieved, and it is good advertising. Many people lose weight, and quite often they do this by using a supplement and sticking to a diet and exercise plan. There is nothing wrong with showing potential results or satisfied customers.
But bear in mind that a lot of them are fake, so it is important to keep a cool, cynical head when looking at this so-called visible proof that something actually works.
There are countless issues with these pictures. Some unscrupulous diet pill sellers even trawl through websites devoted to the recovery of anorexics and just reverse the before and after pictures. Despicable! We have also seen the same before and after pictures posted on sites promoting different supplements.
It can be hard to spot a fake before and after picture, but you just have to be on your guard and aware that you could be being tricked.
The other major issue with fake testimonials is when it comes to reviews left by satisfied customers on sites such as Amazon.
Some companies pay people to write a positive review, or just write them themselves. Some people, especially those who are anything to do with multi-level marketing and are trying to sell the same product themselves, will pitch in and post positive reviews saying how wonderful a certain supplement is.
You can never be 100% sure about some reviews, but if you are looking on Amazon and see a supplement that has attracted hundreds of positive reviews, it may not be as popular as it looks. It is always a good idea to check that the reviews come from verified purchases, and not just read the numbers.
That said, some people are generally positive and just want to share tips. Other people complain about everything, and even if you were giving away free money, puppies, and kittens they would still be unhappy; so a few bad comments about a supplement is not necessarily a bad thing.
When you look at Amazon, a good tip is to go through the feedback in time order. That way if all the negative comments are the most recent comments, there is a good chance that many of the earlier positive comments are fake.
You need to take customer testimonials with a pinch of salt. They might not be genuine.
Nothing makes us madder when it comes to writing reviews for products than the practice of fake science. It is confusing and complicated and designed to blind the customer with words.
Recently, we came across one of the scam sites that looked like the copywriter was high on drugs when he wrote it.
It was full of pseudo scientific speak trying to make you think that it was clever scientists who had written it. If you see a site waffling on in fake scientific terms about totally unprovable facts, then it is normally designed to try and trick you. The idea is that you will be so impressed with their grasp of science that you will believe that the supplement is good without really understanding what you are reading.
Guess what? This is the whole idea! Neither the average customer nor even an expert will fully understand all the terms concerned, the so-called explanation about how the supplement will work, and what it does.
Funnily enough, these types of diet pill companies always manage to write in a clear way when it comes to getting you to buy the supplement!
If a diet pill site is full of strange scientific terms and you feel as if you are being blinded by science, this is exactly the intention. Stick to sites that spell out clearly and easily exactly what the product is supposed to do. That way you will know exactly what you are buying.
If you are being blinded by science, don’t buy the supplement!
Although it is not something that we condone, the sad fact is that some people actively search out prescription drugs online, in most cases Phentermine, or one of the brand names associated with this drug.
Phentermine is effective and is still prescribed in some countries, but has a proven link to causing heart damage and other potentially lethal side effects, which means that it is much less common than it once was. Doctors are now unlikely to prescribe Phentermine, even where it is still available.
This does not stop some people looking for it. Prescription medication should not be taken without the supervision of your doctor, as it can be dangerous, unsuitable, and even a threat to life. However, some people just ignore these warnings and are so desperate that they look online to buy prescription diet pills illegally.
If this is you, you need to stop it now! There are companies out there that claim to sell you genuine prescription drugs. Some claim to even offer a prescription and an online health check by a real life doctor, but this is never genuine, and the doctor is not a real doctor.
If you do manage to buy prescription drugs online, it is highly likely that these will be counterfeit substances that contain unknown ingredients. A counterfeit version of Phentermine may be more dangerous for your health than the genuine article. You will not know where it is made and it will probably be crammed full of dangerous ingredients (China is notorious for this).
When you suffer from side effects and need to see your doctor, nobody will know just what you have taken.
As well as the danger to health, counterfeit products are scams, so in money terms you are being ripped off. The product on offer is not the same as the one that eventually gets delivered to your home. Counterfeit is fraud, even if you are buying something that is technically against the law.
There is an added twist to most Phentermine scams. Many of the websites claiming to sell genuine Phentermine are actually selling herbal supplements with deliberately misleading names such as Phentirmine or Phentamine, for example, in the hope you don’t notice the one letter change.
Although many legitimate diet pills do use “Phen” in their names, when it comes to changing just one letter of a word whilst touting the product as genuine, we consider this to be a deliberate deception.
If you try to buy prescription diet pills online, you will get ripped off with fake diet pills.
Millions of online transactions occur every day, as we do more and more of our shopping online, and diet pill sellers and companies are not all out to rip you off. There are some good supplements out there provided by fair and reputable companies. Most transactions are hassle-free and safe.
However, not all diet pill adverts are what they seem.
There are a number of scammers out there. This is a multi-million dollar industry, so pickings can be high. In most cases, scams fall into the categories described in this guide, but there are always going to be new tricks and rip-offs to catch you out. We just haven’t seen them yet!
For constantly updated information regarding scams and products, keep an eye on Diet Pills Watchdog so you can stay safe whenever you buy supplements.