As technology advances, so does the ability of scammers to fool us. They’re able to gather all sorts of information about us and our interests, enabling them to target us with specific scams that we’re more likely to fall for. The doctrine of caveat emptor – “let the buyer beware” – has never been more true.
Just last week I received an email that appeared to be from a close friend. The email said she had found a wonderful thing, gave a link and was signed with her name. Since we often share information and links with each other, I didn’t think much about it.
When I clicked on the link, the page that opened had the logo of a popular entertainment website, making it appear to be legitimate.. There was a large photo from the Shark Tank TV show and the article headline was “Why Every Judge on Shark Tank Backed this Product.” The article went on to say that for the only time ever all of the judges on show came together and invested in this amazing new weight-loss product, which was flying off the shelves so fast they couldn’t keep it in stock.
Playing on the popularity of the keto diet, they claimed that this product, which was a form of keto salts, would not only put your body into ketosis so it would rapidly burn fat, but would keep it there so your body would continuously burn fat around the clock. They promised dramatic weight-loss results with little to no effort.
To back up their claim, they featured “before” and “after” photos of two celebrities – Mariah Carey and Melissa Joan Hart – who had supposedly lost large amounts of weigh using this product.
Oh, and to add one more little tidbit intended to draw me in and lend credibility to their claims, the pair who had developed this miracle product just “happened” to be from my state.
As I scrolled down the page, what started out looking like an article reporting on an interesting aspect of a TV show, soon became a high-pressure sales pitch. Since they only had a handful of products left, they said they were only offering them to people in my state – and only for a very short time. The clincher was a countdown clock with the seconds ticking off. Only eight minutes left before this unbelievable opportunity would be gone forever.
My scam radar, which began flashing about a quarter of the way into the article, was now on full alert. At this point, I went back and inspected the email that was supposed to be from my friend. Although it had her name on it, the return email address was not hers. Next I did a Google search for ‘ketosis shark tank scam.’ The results verified my suspicions.
The Better Business Bureau looked into this company and confirmed that the Shark Tank image on their website was taken from a different episode and had nothing to do with this product. In fact, their research was unable to locate any Shark Tank episode that featured the keto product in question. They also expressed multiple concerns about the company’s extreme claims.
How Scams Like This Work
Since I didn’t buy the product, I can’t say for sure exactly how this particular scam works. I just know that a company that uses stolen email addresses and falsifies identities in order to get you to their website, not to mention blatantly lying in their advertising, is not a company I would trust with my credit card number.
Typically scams like this operate in one of two ways:
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- They take your money and never send you a product. Once they have your credit card number, they can use it fraudulently themselves or sell it to someone else who wants to steal your identity.
- If you read the small print, when you order the product you are actually agreeing to a subscription to purchase the product every month. Often those monthly fees are significantly higher than the initial “bargain” price of the product. Repeated attempts to cancel the subscription will likely fail and ultimately the only way to get it stopped will be to cancel your credit card.
Red Flags to Watch For
With thousands of weight-loss products on the market, how can you protect yourself against scams? Here are four red flags to watch for:
1. Unrealistic Claims
As much as we would all love to believe there is a magic pill that will cause all of our excess weight to melt away with little to no effort on our part, it’s just not possible. The old saying “If something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t” is a good rule of thumb. There are legitimate supplements available that support healthy weight loss, but any product that promises dramatic weight loss quickly with little effort is lying to you.
2. Vague Scientific Evidence
Scammers often tout scientific research as evidence of their product’s effectiveness. They may use phrases like “research shows that people taking this product lost weight 50% faster.” Faster than what? If they’re comparing people who are taking the product as well as dieting and exercising to people who are not dieting and exercising, it would stand to reason they would lose more weight. But it’s most likely the dieting and exercise that caused the weight loss, not the product. Also, be sure to look for references to back up any scientific claims. If they don’t cite the studies and preferably give you a link to them, you should be skeptical.
3. An Exceptionally Long List of References
While it’s important to look for references to back up any scientific claims, sometimes scammers will offer long lists of 40 or 50 references to try to impress you. Unfortunately, most of those references may have little or nothing to do with the product they’re trying to sell you. They’re counting on the fact that most people are not going to spend hours checking out every reference.
4. Lots of Glowing Testimonials
Testimonials can be a powerful tool to sway us to try a product. We want to believe that if something worked for someone else, it will work for us. However, a testimonial on a product website or in an ad should be taken with a grain of salt. There’s no way to know whether they are even real. A lot of testimonials claiming to have had miraculous results should fall under the “too good to be true” rule.
A Favorite Target
The bottom line is that those of us who want to lose weight are popular targets for scammers. Most of us have tried to lose weight and failed or regained lost weight multiple times. We are are desperate to find something that will help make losing weight easier. If we’re not careful, that desperation can make us easy targets for scammers. Just remember, if you fall for one of these scams, the only thing that will weigh less is your wallet.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief, as well as being the Editor of both the IBS and Weight Loss HealthWatch newsletters. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth.