INDIANAPOLIS — Consumer advocates are trying to make sure people don’t get scammed if they are working to lose weight this year.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are warning people about weight loss scams. This includes those claiming “miraculous” weight loss.

“Any time you see miracle claims for weight loss, be very skeptical,” the BBB said in its consumer alert. “There is no such thing as a ‘secret ingredient’ or ‘breakthrough formula’ that can result in weight loss virtually overnight.”

The FTC said it has investigated, sued and stopped many companies that made false weight-loss claims. Advertisements for these products may use images of “doctors” or even “news” reports to make people believe the product works.

The BBB said many consumers end up purchasing and using products such as body wraps, topical creams, dietary supplements, skin patches, and even earrings promising to “melt,” “flush,” “burn,” or “dissolve” away unwanted fat. 

While it may have started with a free trial or a one-time purchase, the BBB said many consumer complaints described weight loss programs as difficult to cancel. Some people say they received recurring charges to their credit cards for more of the product. When they contacted customer service, they were informed that they had signed up for a subscription, which was only disclosed in the fine print of the terms and conditions of their original purchase.

“The truth is that weight loss requires lifestyle changes. Doctors, dieticians, and other experts agree that the best way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more,” the FTC said in a consumer alert. “But if you get wooed by a weight loss ad with wild promises, all you’ll lose is your money.”

To help avoid weight loss scams, BBB recommends the following: 

  • Always be wary of advertisements and customer endorsements promising “miracle” results or immediate weight loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, evidence suggests gradual loss of 1-2 pounds per week is a healthy goal and is more successful for achieving long-term weight loss. Ask your doctor what an achievable weight loss goal for you would be.  
  • Determine your fitness goals. It’s hard work to lose weight. Find a program you can stick with, preferably one that you enjoy. Does a weight loss plan require special foods? Can you cancel if you move or find that the program doesn’t meet your needs or is more expensive than anticipated? 
  • Avoid products that claim to help lose weight without diet or exercise. Be especially skeptical of claims that you don’t have to give up favorite foods or reduce the amount you consume. Doctors, dieticians, and other experts agree that losing weight takes work. Pass up any product that promises miraculous results without any effort.  
  • Check a product’s ingredients with the FDA. Be suspicious of taking special pills, powders, or herbs. Some products have been recalled for containing ingredients with potentially dangerous effects. Check the list of public notifications from the FDA regarding potentially harmful weight loss products
  • Be wary of a lack of an ingredients list. Some companies have been accused of not advertising certain ingredients that can come with harmful side effects or mix adversely with prescription drugs. 
  • Read all terms and conditions for any weight loss product. Before clicking check out or purchase, make sure the cart only includes the items you wish to purchase, and does not include signing up for a subscription unless this is an option want.​ Be cautious of any contract that takes payment from your credit card until you cancel. 
  • When participating in online forums and chat rooms focused on weight loss and fitness topics, be wary of individuals pushing products they claim will help quickly reach goals. 
  • Research the company with BBB.org before purchasing. Read reviews about the company to see if there are any complaints alleging that it’s a scam. 
  • Be wary of free trial offers, and before signing up, understand all the terms and conditions. These deals can become “subscription traps” that hook consumers into expensive shipments of products they did not agree to buy. 
  • Report the deceptive ads. Be suspicious of ridiculously positive testimonials on the company website. Testimonials become an easy marketing tool and are easily faked. These are often accompanied by glorious before and after pictures.

People can report weight loss scams to the BBB or the FTC.