Diet scams revealed: don't be a victim

Whether we need to or not, many of us worry about our weight and it's a weak point fraudsters are adept at targeting. The promise of easy weight loss makes it all too tempting to open our wallets and sign up for pills or schemes that will only make us lose the wrong sort of pounds.

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 report from drug company Pfizer, advertising blackmarket medicines accounts for nearly 25% of all UK spam emails. But times are changing and rip-offs on social media networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, are becoming increasingly popular.

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 massively detrimental.  

Aside from the financial loss - and 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.

Help us find and expose the latest scams

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), which told Moneywise: "While 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.

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.  

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 14 days 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.

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).

What to do 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.

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Your Comments

Diet Pills are not the only ones using this "free trial" scam where you only supposedly pay p&p. Miracle skin creams have been appearing on web sites offering this and you have to read pages of smallprint to find our that you only get 14 days from your point of order to return the goods otherwise you will pay a hefty £81 and chances are they will grab a second chunk from your account before you wake up to what is happening. Of course it takes them so long to dispatch the goods that you have no chance of meeting the returns deadline. And your card company can do nothing to help you!
There is no such thing as a free lunch!