Weight loss pills and supplements are advertised in newspapers (though I think some of them are cottoning on to the fact that they don't really work), magazines, television programmes and adverts, dedicated websites, pop-ups on other people's websites, sites like Instagram, Twitter and on YouTube. If you've bought some and wish you hadn't (check your credit card / debit card bill as there may be ongoing charges added) then here are some suggestions for what you might be able to do.
1. Try and get your money back
If you've bought pills (or anything online) with a debit or credit card then you may be able to get your money back. Have a look at the information on Section 75 and Chargeback at Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert page on Visa, Mastercard & Amex Chargeback: protection for debit card purchases. I think it only works if the cost was over £100 though but worth checking.
2a. Report the website to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
How to complain about misleading marketing / advertising (as of 2011 websites are included) - http://asa.org.uk/Consumers/How-to-complain.aspx
Have a look at what the Committee of Advertising Practice (they produce the guidelines that the ASA uses to determine if marketing material on websites or leaflets is OK) has to say about various types of weight loss advertising too.
- Weight control: Herbalife and similar weight management products
- Weight control: Food and Food Supplements
- Weight control: Pills, medicines and patches - note that "claims such as “decrease appetite”, “burn fat” and “speed up metabolism” are likely to be medicinal and should not be made for unauthorised products."
2b. Report to Trading Standards
From Trading Standards' website - Trading Standards tips for successful New Year's resolutions:
• The New Year may seem like a perfect time to get back into those skinny jeans. Trading Standards is warning consumers to be sceptical of fad diets, misleading statements and exaggerated promises made by companiespromising to have a “miracle cure”. Not only will they fail to lighten anything but your wallet, many products may be untested and could be extremely unsafe.The first port of call was previously Consumer Direct however Citizen's Advice took over this role in April 2012, see their Advice Guide.
• Trading Standards warns consumers to be wary of internet sellers or small ads offering weight loss supplements such as herbal remedies which promise an easy route to weightloss.
• Consumers have reported falling foul of internet sites where they thought they were subscribingto a free slimming pill trial only to discover they were tied into expensive contracts.
If you know the operating address of the company then contact the relevant local Trading Standards office, you can do this from the UK Government's Trading Standards web portal. Note that the UK office address may not be the company's actual address (might be outside of the UK).
There's some good background advice in this This is Money article (note that it's from 2009 so some of the links won't work and Consumer Direct aren't involved anymore) - "Help! I've been caught by diet pills scam".
See also "Warning issued over illegal 'fat burning' chemical" (September 2013) from the Trading Standards Institute.
2c. Report it to Action Fraud
If you have lost money in buying unevidenced weight loss pills you can report this to Action Fraud, who have this to say on Miracle Health Scams:
"Miracle health scams can include fake ‘miracle’ cures and weight loss products as well as bogus online pharmacies.
It is unlikely that such products have been properly tested or that there is any proof that they are medically effective. Some of these products may even be harmful.
Advertising for miracle health cures often include fake testimonials from apparently satisfied customers, have unproven claims about the product’s effectiveness, make false claims about clinical tests and have worthless ‘money back’ guarantees."
Tis the season of weight loss pills, and other online pills, for which there is generally not very good evidence.
Most are probably fairly harmless and just ineffective (waste of money, and a hassle to get a refund), but some aren't harmless and the sorts of risks can include:
• the pills do contain the ingredients listed but the pills should really only be used under medical supervision
• the pills don't contain the ingredients listed but some other (possibly prescription-only) medicine, perhaps one that has been taken off the market
To be fair, very few are actually lethal. Do watch out for the fat burning one above though.
Fairly often the pills will contain a variety of herbal ingredients and minerals but no evidence is given that the pills have been tested as a combination of those ingredients. If evidence is offered only for the individual ingredients (often small studies in animals or humans) then be wary as things can behave quite differently in combination - and if the pills haven't been tested in the format that they're being sold in then the company cannot reasonably make any claims about them.
I've written previously about the tactics of review sites* and the concept of article spinning** and this means that I sometimes get blog comments from people who are annoyed at having paid money for online pills - hope this updated post helps.
*they're often not actually review sites but provide a link to a merchant site from which you can buy the product, while giving the review site a small percentage of the sale - this is perfectly legal by the way, and often used to really good effect by some charitable organisations (eg with selling books through Amazon) it's just helpful to be aware of it.
**taking a block of text, changing a few words, and publishing this in the hope of fooling Google that it's a fresh new website - this has let people 'flood' the internet with similar websites all promoting the same product, though Google has begun penalising some of the sites.