Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Wasted money buying weight loss pills online? Try and get your money back and report to Action Fraud

This post is modified from one that appeared as part of an earlier post and is aimed at people in the UK.

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) -

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.

See also UK Government information on the Advertising Standards Authority 

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.
• 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.
The first port of call was previously Consumer Direct however Citizen's Advice took over this role in April 2012, see their Advice Guide.

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.

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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).