Consumer Handbook: Looking Out For Phony, Extravagant Product Claims

Mar 14, 2019

Credit Elaine Smith/Flickr

Recently, the Better Business Bureau has received reports of consumers falling prey to pitches for products that claim to be endorsed by the popular television program, Shark Tank. This is a new twist on fraudulent free trial offers: a common scam that costs consumers millions of dollars each year.

Here’s how the scam works. You see an ad on the internet about a new product, often about a diet supplement promising to help you lose weight, get perfect skin, cleanse your digestive tract or even prevent cancer. In fact, the product is ‘so great,’ it’s endorsed by Shark Tank. What’s more, manufacturers are willing to send you a free sample. All you have to do is pay a small shipping and handling fee.

If you do offer up your credit card information for the “free trial offer,” you’re in for a surprise. You are supposed to receive the supplements, try them, and if they don’t work, send them back before the trial ends. But the trial isn’t really free, as the supplements arrive late, so you won’t have time to send them back before you are charged full price.

Not only that: you’re inadvertently signed up for an expensive monthly ‘subscription.’

Contacting customer service about this is a real challenge. The original website may disappear, leaving you without many options. If you do manage to speak to a representative, they often say there is nothing they can do. If you don’t notice the charges right away, you could end up making monthly recurring payments for a product that doesn’t work.

To avoid subscription scams, be especially wary of ads with extravagant claims. Free trial offer scams often use celebrity endorsements and make claims that are beyond reasonable belief. Make sure to read the fine print carefully to make sure you understand what you are signing up for.

Before making a purchase online, double check that you are on the right website and have a secure connection. And, always use a credit card when paying online.