The NYS Division of Consumer Protection today reminded consumers of the dangers of deceptive ads for products that promise weight loss or improved health. Misleading ads, with false promises and unsubstantiated health claims, prey on peoples desires for a quick fix or miracle cure, but they may only cheat you out of your hard-earned money, and worse, be dangerous to your health.
“Weight-loss scams can place consumers at risk of losing more than cash since dietary supplements can jeopardize one’s health. The Division of Consumer Protection warns New Yorkers looking to meet their health and fitness goals to be careful and not fall for the myriad of fraudulent products advertised” said Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Health care fraud includes fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive claims for weight loss products or services, health spas and equipment, and over the counter or prescription drugs. According to the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel Network data, it was one of the top 10 fraud categories in 2021, costing U.S. consumers $17 million dollars in losses. New Yorkers are warned to be critical of any new products prior to purchase.
"Nothing can replace the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise for safe and effective weight loss," said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. "Be aware of products that over-promise unrealistic results that may be detrimental to your wallet and to your health."
New Yorkers should be careful and do research before purchasing a new health or weight loss product and follow these tips:
- Look out for bogus claims: A health product is fraudulent if it is deceptively promoted as being effective against a disease or health condition, but not scientifically proven safe and effective for that purpose. Consumers may see exaggerated claims in ads, such as “a proven cure”, a “scientific breakthrough” or promising “instant results.” Fraudulent products also use vague buzzwords such as “all-natural” or “herbal.” Often these claims cannot be verified, and they offer no evidence within the ad. Remember: There is no proven quick and easy way to lose weight or get healthy – don’t fall for the deception.
- Look out for fake guarantees: Always read the fine print before purchasing a health or weight loss product. A common tactic in health care scams is the money-back guarantee, giving the appearance of a risk-free investment. However, often buried in the fine print are conditions that consumers miss, like agreeing to a subscription service for a period or being billed for more product that the consumer intended to use.
- Look for trustworthy reviews before purchase: Before trying a new product, search for its name online through a trusted search engine. Fake reviews are common so seek verified reviews from a variety of sources. If all you find are glowing reviews, consider if the authors may have been paid or received free product for writing the review. Also look for complaints or lawsuits about the product. If you see the product on social media but the comments are turned off, beware; it’s a red flag that the company is trying to hide honest feedback. Many ads include dramatic before-and-after photos, however, the photos may be doctored or altered or may show a person who never used the advertised product at all. If you can’t find information beyond the product’s advertisements, it is probably a scam.
- Consult a health professional: Always consult with a primary care physician or certified health practitioner before beginning a new medicine or dietary supplement, particularly if the product is not approved by the FDA. These products may contain unknown ingredients, have harmful health effects, or interfere with your prescriptions.
- Seek reliable information for getting healthy: There are places to seek more information on your own if you are interested in treating diseases and ailments, backed by certified doctors and scientists. Sites such as the National Institute of Health's MedlinePlus and MyHealthFinder by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offer a wealth of information easily accessible to consumers. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health offers information about alternative and complementary medicine. To learn about healthy eating, visit nutrition.gov, ChooseMyPlate.gov, or the Weight-control Information Network. While these sites are verified, consumers should always consult their health professional with any questions.
Consumers who see fraudulent weight loss product claims or false advertising should report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Office of the Attorney General.
Consumers who believe they have been victims of a health scam can file a complaint with NYS Division of Consumer Protection at https://dos.ny.gov/file-consumer-complaint.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm, and by visiting the website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.
For more information on consumer-related topics, connect with the Division on social media via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.