Diet scams are becoming increasingly commonplace. Experts say roughly the same top five diet scams seem to keep coming back every few years, often after the New Year, because the New Year’s resolution of many people is to lose weight. That is why the peddlers of diet pills, supplements, and programs advertise heavily around January 1 every year.
Diet scams often come dressed in shiny new marketing gimmicks, but they are all based on the same fake science. Among the top diet scams are the following:
- Herbal Supplements and Formulations: Herbal supplements often promise to boost a person’s metabolism, so the body utilizes the calories they ingest before they can lead to the development of fat. These supplements may come in the form of pills or teas;
- Pills: The makers of diet pills usually promise to block the body’s absorption of fat or carbohydrates: Pills are a favorite of diet scammers. The makers of these pills ascribe all fantastic properties to them, all with the same result – the person who takes them is guaranteed to lose weight. It may be because the pill blocks the body’s absorption of fat or carbohydrates. Or it may assist the metabolism of sugar. Whatever the pill’s power may be, it will result in weight loss;
- Wearable Products: Diet patches, jewelry, or other products worn on the body are endowed with magical powers that lead a person to lose weight;
- Body Wraps or “Slim Suits:” A person is promised that if they only put on the garment or other item, they will, of course, lose weight. But they do not.
An example is a program that is now heavily advertised on television. The ads note that most diets require a person to stop eating certain desirable foods high in calories because they contain carbohydrates, sugar, and fat. The ad suggests that this company’s program is different. IIn the same paragraph, it then goes on to say that it uses a “psychology-based approach to change your eating habits for the better.”
So, in other words, it is just like every other diet program that might help a person lose weight; it requires a person to change their diet. That means eating differently, including eating different foods than they have been eating, the foods that caused them to gain excess weight.
How Can a Person Lose Weight?
Because, in the end, with some exceptions noted below, the only way to lose weight is for a person to reduce their intake of calories from food and beverages and increase exercise. Exercise increases the body’s burning of calories, so they do not get deposited as fat. A person must follow these changes over a while. Weight cannot be lost quickly unless a person follows a starvation diet. Reliable medical experts note that a person can realistically expect to lose about a pound or two per week at best.
Part of the tragedy of diet scams is that they make people lose money and keep people from pursuing diet programs that could help them lose weight.
Are Some Diet Scams Dangerous?
In addition, some diet scams cost people money and can also be dangerous to their health. Two examples from the recent past are ephedra and kava pills, also known as “kava kava.”
The FDA banned Ephedra in 2004 because it is an herb closely related to methamphetamine. Some of the side effects of Ephedra are high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, nervousness, tremors, seizures, heart attacks, strokes, and even death.
Kava has been sold as a supplement, and distributors claim it has various positive health effects, including weight loss, relaxation, and antidepressant properties. It comes from a plant that grows on the islands of the South Pacific. However, in 2002, the FDA warned about its negative side effects. The worst of them is the possibility of severe injury to the liver, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and potentially fatal liver failure. It is unsafe and should probably be avoided.
Are There Any Prescription Medications for Weight Loss?
There are now prescription weight-loss medications on the market. They must be obtained with a prescription from a licensed physician. Some of them are treatments for Type 2 diabetes and have side effects. The medication Victoza is an example. Unfortunately, among its serious side effects is kidney failure.
Another option that has proven effective for some people is weight-loss (bariatric) surgery, known as “bariatric surgery.” This helps a patient lose weight and lowers their risk of medical problems associated with obesity. Bariatric surgery helps a person lose weight in the following ways:
- Restriction Surgery: This surgery is used to physically limit the amount of food the stomach can hold, which limits the amount of food a person eats. This, in turn, limits the number of calories they eat. Reducing calories leads to weight loss;
- Malabsorption Surgery: This surgery is used to bypass part of the small intestine so the food a person ingests does not pass through it. This lowers the number of calories and nutrients the body absorbs during digestion.
A person would seek bariatric surgery only from a licensed physician who specializes in bariatric surgery.
What Should I Do if I Think I Am a Victim of a Diet Scam?
Federal and state laws prohibit deceptive trade practices. If a person is a victim of a diet scam, they can report the scam to the appropriate government authorities. At the federal level, a person could file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). A person can also contact the office of their state’s attorney general. The attorney generals of most states have a consumer protection agency or division. The more agencies a person contacts regarding their situation, the more likely someone will act on their behalf.
The National Fraud Information Center can also help someone contact the appropriate authorities. It is part of the National Consumers League. It is not a government agency, but it might be able to offer a person some help with a diet scam if it involves fraud.
What Will the Authorities Do If I Have Been the Victim of a Diet Scam?
Unfortunately, the FTC cannot address every individual consumer problem. However, the FTC may take action if there is potential injury or harm to consumers. The FTC is also more likely to act if many U.S. citizens are being bilked out of large sums by a fraudulent business.
The FTC advises the public that it files a lawsuit when it has “reason to believe” that a company has violated the law and that filing a lawsuit would serve the public interest. A case filed by the FTC is decided by the court in which it is filed.
Consumers who believe a diet scam has deceived them can file a complaint online or call the FTC. Contact information is available on its website. The FTC enters consumers’ complaints into its secure online database. This database is available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and overseas.
Can I Recover Damages for a Diet Scam?
To some extent, this will depend on the extent of a person’s loss from the diet scam. If a person has lost $50 on purchasing bogus diet pills that did not produce weight loss and gave them a stomach ache, they should probably consider it a learning experience.
If a person’s losses are more significant, then, depending on the facts of their case, they might have grounds for a lawsuit for damages. If they have suffered a significant personal injury, they might have grounds for a lawsuit for negligence or strict product liability. A strict product liability case would be based on the claim that the diet product was defective because it has a design, manufacturing, or warning defect.
For example, a person might allege that a diet pill or supplement manufacturer failed to warn consumers of known side effects involving serious health risks, and the person was injured by this failure to warn them.
Will I Get My Money Back?
Whether a person gets their money back after the government takes action on a diet scam depends on the facts of the case. Often the scam artists set up a post office box, collect and cash the checks sent by consumers, then close down and move on to their next victims. When any legal action is taken, the scam artists may have disappeared.
Even if the company is using a legitimate address, fraudulent diet companies have been known to form a corporation, placing all claims and warranties in the corporation’s name and insulating the owners and managers from liability for the corporation’s wrongdoings. They then dissolve the corporation when they realize their scam has been exposed.
Often the company has no assets, such as property, chairs, desks, computers, money in the bank, or insurance. So even if a consumer wins a lawsuit against the corporation, the consumer probably would not recover any monetary awards because the corporation owns nothing of value.
Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for My Diet Scam Problem?
If you have a strong case against a business that has perpetrated a diet scam, consult an experienced consumer protection attorney. A consumer protection attorney can help you file claims with agencies and pursue other remedies.
If you have suffered a personal injury due to a diet scam, you want to consult a personal injury attorney. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine if you might recover damages for your injuries through a personal injury lawsuit.