The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has levied $35 million in fines against four national companies that were making unfounded claims about what their “weight loss” supplements can do. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers that some fraudulent supplements may be tainted, cause serious injury or even death.
“Claims about dramatic results from weight loss supplements are not new,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau President, Paulette Scarpetti. “Unfortunately, internet ads are exposing many more consumers to products that don’t deliver what they promise.”
Some ads for supplements involve phony “before and after” photos, promise that a product can help burn away 15 to 45 pounds a month without dieting or exercise, promise permanent weight loss, fail to disclose whether their advertised results are typical and even use the logos of well-known news organizations to peddle their pills, powders and creams.
More than 4,300 complaints about weight loss supplements were filed with BBB nationwide in 2013. Those complaints detail misleading advertising, paying for but not receiving merchandise, refund and exchange issues, and adverse reactions due to the use of a supplement.
There are many other supplements that promise consumers unrealistic results, including prevention of damage from concussions, enhancing sexual performance and aiding body building.
Dietary supplements do not require FDA approval before being sold. It is left to manufacturers to ensure products’ safety.
In a consumer update on its website, the FDA warns some supplements may contain hidden prescription ingredients at levels much higher than those found in approved drug products and are dangerous.
The FDA and Better Business Bureau warn consumers to steer clear of products that claim to be an alternative to an approved drug or have similar effects to prescription medication, are mass-marketed through email, claim rapid or long-lasting sexual enhancement or make any claim that a product is “totally safe,” or can “treat or cure” diseases.
Aside from dangerous supplements, BBB has some tips for consumers to avoid getting cheated by companies or individuals that peddle potentially-dangerous or worthless supplements:
Consult your healthcare provider – Certain products or their ingredients can interfere with performance of prescription medication, worsen existing health conditions or cause problems for women who are pregnant or nursing.
Research the supplement – Check out products’ and manufacturers’ Business Reviews at www.bbb.org. The Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov, also is a great resource for researching supplements and their ingredients.
Be skeptical of exaggerated claims – Ignore any product that promises out of the ordinary results or dramatic changes within a short period. There are no instant fixes.
Be selective about your online research – Rather than doing a quick search through an online search engine, when you look for information on supplements, use respected websites run by the government, a university or reputable medical database.