The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning consumers on its website to beware of weight loss shams when looking to fulfill a new year's resolution.
"Scammers are experts at preying upon people's vulnerabilities and try to take advantage of people's good intentions to improve their health in the New Year. Unfortunately if you fall for this scam, the only place you will feel lighter is your wallet," ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.
The ACCC said scams promise dramatic weight loss for little or no effort. They typically involve an unusual or restrictive diet, revolutionary exercise, a "fat-busting" device or breakthrough pills, patches or creams.
They're advertised online or via mail order with enticing claims such as "lose 30 kilos in 30 days" or "lose weight while you sleep," usually accompanied by bogus before and after pictures.
"These scams suggest that you can achieve amazing results without having to do any extra exercise or even modify your diet. They lack any scientific evidence or demonstrated links between the program, food, supplement, gadget or process being promoted - and the result," Schaper said.
Last year, the ACCC received 173 contacts about weight loss scams, a 50 percent increase on the previous year. Total reported losses in 2013 were over 20,000 AU dollars (17,780 U.S. dollars), a 70 percent increase on 2012. Over 70 percent of people who have come into contact with a scam have lost money and the average individual loss is 165 AU dollars (146 U.S. dollars).
Schaper said at the beginning of every year, the ACCC receives an increase in contacts from the public about weight loss scams. The most common complaints are about people engaging in a free trial of a weight loss products, which then incurred extra charges and hidden subscriptions.
"Victims report being unable to contact the billing companies involved and are therefore unable to cancel the subscriptions or stop the charges occurring. Some victims mention that even if they get a chargeback from the bank, new charges have appeared at a later date."
Schaper warned that some of the weight loss products or schemes offered by scammers can have very serious consequences for people' s health.
"Remember that there are no magic pills for rapid weight loss, so be very skeptical about claims of effortless, large or fast weight loss," Schaper said.