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Slimming pill swindles reach an all-time high

More people than ever are being lured into online slimming pill rip-offs that can cost them over 180 times what they expected, finds Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

In the last year there was a 124% rise in problems with slimming pills reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service.  More than twice as many problems were reported in the first six months of this year than the same period in 2013.

Evidence from Citizens Advice finds many people are caught out by internet offers that unknowingly tie people into costly subscriptions.  With three in four slimming pill cases potentially breaking the law, further analysis of problems dating back to 2012 reveals.

Between July 2013 and June 2014, over 4,700 problems were reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service about drugs advertised as fat-busting aids.

The online rip-offs often advertise a ‘free trial’ of slimming pills. The website may then state that the pills themselves are free but the consumer needs to pay a few pounds for postage and packaging by providing their card details. The buyer then finds multiple payments are taken out over a period of months, often adding up to over £150.  In one case reported to Citizens Advice a customer was charged up to £300.

Chief Executive of Citizens Advice , Gillian Guy, said:

“Dishonest firms advertising online are creating an epidemic of slimming pill swindles. People trying to lose weight are instead losing money because of scams or rip-offs hiding in the small print. Customers are being lured into contracts through ‘free trial’ cons that hit them with sneaky repeat charges.

“We are helping more people than ever with the shock extra costs of these misleading slimming pill offers. It can be hard for people to tell the difference between scammers and real firms. No company should be advertising slimming pill trials as ‘free’ whilst burying the high price and nature of the contract in lengthy terms and conditions.

“It is often difficult for people to get money back even if they feel misled because the extra payments were not clear. The small print should be easy to understand so consumers know exactly what they are signing-up to.”

People are also reporting costly slimming pill rip-offs with knock-on financial problems to Citizens Advice Bureaux around the country.

  • One 53 year old woman wanted to lose some weight and decided to go with a trial offer of raspberry ketone slimming tablets. She knowingly paid £2.69 but the firm took out £94.97, for a 3-month-supply, leaving her struggling to pay her other bills.
  • A firm sent one lady the trial sample she requested but then went on to deliver more slimming pills, and take money for a year’s supply. The buyer had notified her bank but failed to stop the larger unauthorised payment.  She could not afford to use her phone to contact the company because they had left her so out of pocket.

Citizens Advice is warning consumers to be aware of the prevalence of online diet pill rip-offs that take extra payments. A major concern is that Terms & Conditions are often not made available or are long-winded and hard to find.

Citizens Advice  is calling for traders to have clear Terms & Conditions and prominent contact details, as well for Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority to crack down on rogue firms.

The charity analysed over 7,000 cases dating back to April 2012 to establish how the online market operates, compared to the problems it helps people with in other industries, in order to identify pitfalls for consumers.

The analysis reveals:

  • 9 in 10 slimming pill cases involve purchases made over the internet compared to 1 in 10 for all purchases
  • In 94% of these cases, the payments were made by debit or credit card, compared to an average of 22%
  • Many people were unable to get in touch with the companies after they paid
  • The majority of cases recorded involve traders offering trial products, mostly advertised online

Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive, Margaret Lynch, says:

“In the past year more than 400 Scots came to ask for CAB advice after being caught out by these sort of scams. It’s a sad reality but there are clearly lots of scammers out there who are waiting to prey on people’s good intentions in trying to lose weight. So our message to everyone in Scotland who comes across these sort of adverts is: be careful! And if you have been ripped-off, report it – so they can’t go and scam other people too!

“As with all financial transactions, make sure you read all the terms and conditions before giving away any money or signing up to anything. If you think something is unclear or seems suspicious, get advice from someone independent. Equally, you should do some research on any company you are dealing with, to make sure they are reputable. And above all, never give your personal or bank details to anyone unless you are 100% sure you know what you are getting into.

“The Scottish CAB service now has an enhanced role in protecting and advising consumers. If you are uncertain about something you are about to buy, or if you have been scammed and want to report it, you can get advice at your local CAB or at our special consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or www.adviceguide.org.uk.”