The Federal Trade Commission is preparing for a New Year’s spike in weight-loss scams. This year’s highlights included a cream inspired by lobster hormones, and a magical pill that claimed to strip the calories from a plate of spaghetti.
As Americans resolve to lose weight and diet this year, scammers are at the ready to collect what amounts to hundreds of millions each year in products that swear to trim inches and cut pounds, usually without any exercise. The Federal Trade Commission is preparing for the annual spike in weight-loss product fraud that tends to occur this time of year, as consumers search for a “magic bullet,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director for the FTC's division of advertising practices.
“In terms of advertising issues, weight loss fraud is one of the top priorities for the Federal Trade Commission,” Cleland said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “It's very lucrative for scammers…you've got an audience that is susceptible to being scammed and a fairly sophisticated group of marketers that are very adept of taking advantage of them.”
In the FTC's most recent consumer fraud survey, back in 2011, more consumers fell prey to fraudulent weight-loss products than any other fraud; an estimated 2.15% of consumers, or 5.1 million American adults, bought and used such goods that year. Despite that, companies typically can't pay the full fines demanded by the FTC as they've run out of money at that point. A tally by BuzzFeed News found that those accused of making fraudulent weight-loss claims paid less than $ 100 million in consumer refunds and penalties this year.
“Even in the best cases, it doesn't compare to the amount of money that consumers actually lose on the products,” Cleland said. “The companies have generally spent the money either on advertising or laundered the money to their own bank accounts or something, so there's usually very little money left over for consumers. That suggests that consumer education is probably a more effective tool at protecting consumers than law enforcement.”
Cleland notes that consumers should remember “there is no miracle out there.” Below, nine scams that the FTC ruled on this year.