Danielle Kane

A new year — a new decade for that matter — has many of us making resolutions, setting goals, daydreaming about a new season of life.

Goal setting is a great thing. It can help keep you on track when the going gets tough.

Many people set health goals for the new year. Again, a great idea. Who couldn’t use more veggies in their diet or more minutes spent moving? The problem lies not with the intent of get-healthy resolutions.

The problem lies in the myriad of shady diet products being offered by equally shady companies – companies that make claims about overnight weight loss or years off your age with one miracle product.

Most of these products, as the Better Business Bureau uncovered in a recent investigative study, are marketed online as “risk-free” with a very low introductory price. Customers who don’t read the fine print on the “miracle” product, beware! The risk-free trials are anything but that. You’ve unwittingly entered your credit card to be charged exorbitant recurring subscription prices after the introductory offer.

Compounding the problem, many celebrity images are ripped off and used to endorse these diet and beauty products. In fact, several celebrities have sued for the misuse of their name and image. Some of these sham companies will even admit, in the fine print, that the celebrity endorsement they’re using to peddle their product is fake.

The Better Business Bureau receives frequent complaints from consumers who were duped by “free-trial” offers.

These offers are rampant on the internet, where nefarious companies have invested heavily in targeted and social media ads.

The dollar loss is staggering. In the last decade alone, the Federal Trade Commission pursued cases of loss totaling more than $1.3 billion. This multi-billion-dollar industry spans the globe, too.

While an introductory offer can be a legitimate company’s way of introducing customers to new products, those trustworthy companies will never try to deceive customers or hide important information in the fine print. If you can locate and read the fine print on the order page, or the terms and conditions buried by a link, you’ll discover that you may have only 14 days to receive, evaluate, and return the product to avoid being charged $100 or more.

Additionally, the same hidden information may state that by accepting the offer, you’ve also signed up for monthly shipments of the products. Those shipments will be charged to your credit card and become subscription traps. Many people find it difficult to contact the seller to stop recurring charges, halt shipments and get a refund.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, the trade association for the major dietary supplement companies, renounces shady free-trial business practices.

“No legitimate company selling dietary supplements would engage in bogus free trial offers, trick people into subscriptions for continuing shipments, make outrageous unsupportable claims for products, or employ the names of celebrities without permission,” Megan Olsen from the council says. “In fact, we work with BBB to identify bogus product claims and encourage law enforcement action against deceptive practices.”

Your Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific recommends the following tips before to avoid free-trial scams:

— Always read the fine print before giving out your credit card for an offer that seems too good to be true.

— Before you buy, start with a company you can trust: visit bbb.org to see how we rate and review the business.

— Use a credit card so if you are charged unknowingly, you can contact your card company to see about receiving a charge back.

This new year, before you hit “pay” on a diet or wellness product to help you reach that 2020 health goal, read the fine print. In fact, add reading the fine print to your 2020 goals, and your money goals will be a lot more attainable.

New year, smarter you.

Danielle Kane is the Better Business Bureau state director for Oregon. She can be reached at danielle.kane@thebbb.org.

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