Whether we need to or not, many people worry about their weight and it’s a weak point fraudsters are adept at
targeting. The promise of easy weight loss program makes it all too tempting to
open their wallets and sign up for pills or schemes that will only make them lose the wrong sort of pounds.
Weight loss or diet scams are not new, they’ve
been around for centuries, from soothsayers through to snake-oil
salesmen. The difference now is the internet has made it so much easier
for fraudsters to reach potential victims.
The majority of diet scams are conducted online via searches, adverts and spam emails. Spam
alone is a massive driver, according to a recent report from drug
company Pfizer, advertising black market medicines accounts for nearly
25% of all UK spam emails. But times are changing and rip-offs on social
media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are becoming increasingly
The fact that fraudsters often trade in victims’ personal or financial
details, adding them to so-called suckers’ lists – health scams
frequently involve the sale of pills that can be dangerous to your
health, or be addictive, for the crooks it’s big business, earning criminals around £45 billion a
year – according to the same report – while the effect on consumers is
1. Free trials
Other sites offer free diet pill trials but things aren’t all they
seem. In many diet scams, customers must cancel deliveries within 2 weeks of ordering, regardless of whether they have received their order.
If they don’t, further packages of the supplements will be posted at a
hugely inflated cost. As victims must pass on their card details to
cover postage and packaging, they are exposed to further payments, often
without realising it.
This was an issue the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) raised
with Beyond Nutra Ltd of Kildington, Oxfordshire. The company is behind
Beyondraspberryketone.co.uk, a website selling ‘wonder’ berries that
will make you ‘lose weight and feel great’ on a free 14-day trial. It
subsequently charges a huge monthly sum – currently £84.95 plus up to
£9.95 in postage and packaging – when the ’14-day trial’ offer is over.
Last year, the ASA stated: “We considered the prominent claims such
as “TELL US WHERE TO SEND YOUR TRIAL!”, “ACT NOW AND GET YOUR TRIAL!”,
“RUSH MY TRIAL” and “Get Your TRIAL Today!” would be understood by
consumers to mean that they were signing up only to receive a trial
bottle of the product, for which they would not be charged.” When we checked Beyondraspberryketone.co.uk, the same marketing
statements were still being made, despite the ASA’s requirement to
2. Dangerous medications
Many pharmaceutical or herbal supplements could contain banned, untested or undeclared items, which is an issue that concerns the government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), many adverts make attractive weight loss claims, the fact is many unlicensed slimming pills simply do not work and can contain dangerous, unknown ingredients.
Looking for ways to con people is a full-time job for fraudsters. They spend hours conjuring up ruses to hoodwink the public by adapting scams to cater for new fads and trends. This makes them hard to spot, but not impossible as many cons are variations on a few main themes.
3. Miracle cures
Fraudsters also claim to be able to cure everything from Aids to arthritis, as well as providing remedies that will guarantee weight loss. But if you have an existing medical condition, such as diabetes or cancer, taking the wrong type of pills could prove disastrous.
The MHRA told us: “It simply is not worth the danger to your health to buy and use these products as you don’t know what is in them. Any weight loss results they offer could come with a huge risk.”
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of diet scams, so many offer false assurances that they are legitimate. In the case of diet scams, slick websites and fake testimonials from non-existent customers unfortunately often do the trick.
A current example of this type of scam revolves around the sale of acai berry supplements as miracle weight-loss pills. A quick search on Google reveals numerous sites using dodgy testimonials to sell acai berry pills. One we found features a quote, titled ‘recommended by doctors’ alongside a photo of a man in a white medical coat and stethoscope, but it’s a stock photo and not attributed.
There’s also a testimonial from ‘Jennifer, 31’, who states: “I still can’t believe how quickly and easily I lost weight… I think it’s a miracle!” It must be, as there is no reliable evidence that eating these berries will result in weight loss.
4. Fake endorsements
Celebrity endorsements are lawfully and widely used to promote everything from supermarkets to airlines. The rationale being we tend to trust a familiar face. It’s a simple strategy, and one that fraudsters have leapt on.
For example, Slimzene, a trading name of Natural Health Network, used fake endorsements from celebrities including Adele, Victoria Beckham and Lorraine Kelly for its Raspberry Ketone diet. It also included fake quotes and doctored images (showing the celebs apparently before and after the diet).
Take action if you spot a scam
If you stumble upon what you think is a scam, report it to Action Fraud (0300 123 2040). If you have taken diet pills that could be part of a scam, contact your doctor. Tell your bank as soon as possible if you revealed your bank account or credit card details. You may be able to claim losses back from your credit or debit card provider.