Tiny Belly "Tip" Turns Out to Be Giant Internet Scam
Makenzie on 8 Jul 2011 at 9:00am
Have you clicked on an ad for one of the biggest scams on the Internet?
I did. In fact, I bought it.
You may have seen ads like this on major news sites, such as The Washington Post, which reports the story about how a little ad for a tiny belly has taken in at least $1 billion and counting:
The innocent-seeming “1 Tip” ad is actually the tip of something much larger: a vast array of diet and weight-loss companies hawking everything from pills made from African mangoes to potions made from exotic acai berries. Federal officials have alleged that the companies behind the ads make inflated claims about their products and use deceptive means to market them.
Users are taken to a "news" site which "investigates" the effectiveness of the product.
Almost everything about these would-be news sites is bogus, the federal government contends. It has said that the offer of free or low-cost samples is a scheme to capture consumers’ credit card numbers, leading to thousands of complaints about unauthorized charges.
Take it from me, that's exactly what happens.
I consider myself pretty savvy and wary of schemes, but one day towards the end of college I saw one of these ads for the umpteenth time and decided "why not?" All they wanted was shipping; I figured I didn't have anything to lose but six bucks!
I honestly can't remember if my second shipment came in before or after I noticed the charge on my debit card. As a somewhat starving college student I checked my account balance frequently. I couldn't account for some missing money, so I looked closely at my statement.
There it was: $79.99 for some product I couldn't quite decipher. But there was a 1-800 number in the description, so I called it. The details of how I figured out what exactly had happened are fuzzy now. I do know that it took me being very firm and demanding to get my money back, but they refunded me. My guess is that they get enough complaints, they refund those who take the time to call. Sadly, I imagine not everyone takes that time.
Oh, and the pills did not work.
Now, the FTC is suing the affiliate companies who have marketed these diet schemes online for the product companies -- and received part of the profit.
When a would-be customer clicks the links on the affiliate site and orders products from the merchant’s site, the affiliate receives a cut of the purchase. The payment varies from company to company, but FTC investigators found evidence that it can be as much as $30 per order.
Although many of the marketing affiliates are being investigated and charged, the sad truth is these ads are still going around. You'll likely still see them from similar companies and on somewhat reliable websites.
If there's a lesson to be learned, it's one that is frequently echoed by our community of doctors when anyone asks about the latest and greatest "no pain, no recovery" procedure: The best way to get thin is a healthy diet and exercise, because there are no miracles short of expensive, invasive surgery.