Weight-loss products are the leading type of consumer fraud in the U.S., according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Millions of Americans fall for these scams each year. The marketers typically promise substantial, rapid, no-effort weight loss without dieting or exercise—guaranteed. The only thing you’re guaranteed to lose, however, is your money. The FTC’s latest crackdown on deceptive advertising and marketing singled out four products:
- Sensa crystals. The Wellness Letter has warned about this powder, which you sprinkle on food supposedly to fool your brain’s appetite control center so you feel full and eat less. “Fool” is the operative word, indeed. The agency found that the company had no good evidence to support the claims; some endorsements were paid for. Sensa agreed to pay $26 million to settle with the FTC and change its advertising. Still, that’s a pittance compared to the $364 million in Sensa sales since 2008.
- L’Occitane skin creams. The company agreed to stop making claims that its Almond Beautiful Shape and Almond Shaping Delight creams can slim thighs and buttocks and fight cellulite and that the products are “clinically proven.” The creams sold for about $45 for seven ounces. L’Occitane agreed to refund $450,000 and stop making unsubstantiated claims about weight or fat loss for any products. This should send a message to other high-end cosmetics companies that market products via similar slippery claims.
- LeanSpa açaí berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss supplements. These were promoted through fake news websites. And they were marketed via “free trials” that turned into $80 automatic recurring monthly charges that, as happens with so many diet scams, were very hard to cancel (the same was true of Sensa). About seven million dollars will be refunded.
- HCG Diet Direct. This company markets a human hormone that, the FTC said, has been “touted by hucksters” for decades as a diet aid. So far, defrauded customers (who have shelled out $200 for a 40-day supply) have been out of luck, since the defendants claim they are unable to pay the judgment.
Going forward: The FTC has been encouraging media outlets to do a better job screening ads for diet products that make clearly dubious claims. That seems to be having some effect in curtailing bogus ads, but new ones keep popping up, and old ones often just change their wording. All we can say is, you’ve been warned. For more about diet scams, visit the FTC’s special website.