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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > January 2012 > Lose Weight Safely; Avoid Diet Scams

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Lose Weight Safely; Avoid Diet Scams


A common New Year’s resolution is to live a healthier life by losing weight gained over the holidays.

Although there are several legitimate weight loss products available, be aware that some scam artists advertise phony products, claiming to help consumers lose weight with little or no effort.

Consumers provide a large payment or purchase certain medicines, supplements, or treatments, which turn out to be ineffective.

These tactics exploit consumers’ desire to lose weight quickly. They often involve “guarantees” and “promises”, but the only real guarantees come from making a lifestyle change by eating healthy foods and/or increasing physical activity.

According to the American Dietetic Association, Americans spent an estimated $58 billion on weight loss products in 2007. Such products often are advertised through the television, Internet, individual solicitations, mail, and/or telemarketing.

When “Free” Isn’t Really Free

In some cases, ads offer a “free trial” on weight loss supplements, vitamins, or other products. Consumers sign up for the free trial, but then receive a monthly bill. This is a practice called “negative option” – you accept a free trial and unless you cancel within a certain timeframe, you will be billed for additional products. Read the fine print before you sign up for a free trial. 

Weight Loss Product or Colon Cleanser?

Some products touted as “weight loss supplements” are actually colon cleansers, which could cause serious harm to the body if used improperly. In general, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve dietary supplements, so just because you find a product in a store does not mean it is safe or effective.

Protect Yourself

It is important to research weight loss products carefully before making any purchases or providing any payments.

Consult with a health professional, such as your doctor, dietician, or personal trainer. Also read the fine print in any advertisement.

Look out for:

  • "Free" trial offers
  • Weight loss "guarantees" 
  • Large down payments
  • Claims of no exercise needed 
  • Long-term contracts

Protect Yourself:

  • Research the company and/or product.
  • Read all terms and conditions.
  • Carefully evaluate offers for medicines, supplements, or other treatments. 
  • Consult with a health care professional, such as a dietitian or your doctor. 
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

For more information on health fraud scams and dietary supplements visit or

To report possible fraud visit or call 800-282-0515.