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Losing weight is a popular New Year's resolution, but consumers should use caution when buying diet and weight loss products to aid them on their journey, especially products that advertise a free trial.

"Miracle" products that promise easy weight loss are ubiquitous on the internet, and you may be enticed to try these products through a "risk-free" trial: Just enter your name, address and credit card number, and the product will be on its way for only a nominal shipping and handling charge. However, according to a December 2018 in-depth investigative study by Better Business Bureau, the fine print associated with many of these free trial offers ensnares consumers in so-called "subscription traps" that hook them for expensive shipments of products they did not explicitly agree to buy.

BBB Scam Tracker fielded reports of more than 300 scams in 2020 that were associated with free trial offers.

A Camdenton woman lost nearly $200 after signing up for a free trial of a vitamin supplement, according to a BBB Scam Tracker report she filed in February 2020. She told BBB she believed it was a one-time purchase and she only had to pay a shipping cost. She said she began to receive charges on her credit card for $90.

"They are intentionally tricking people into a free trial and then charging their cards $90-plus every two weeks to a month and sending them products they did not order," the woman told BBB. "I have tried to get a hold of customer support but have had no luck. I have filed a dispute at my bank with this company. This is absolutely ridiculous."

BBB also received nearly 1,200 complaints in 2020 about weight loss and diet services and products. Common complaints included never receiving products ordered, results that were not as advertised or products that caused an adverse reaction.

Consumers who want to lose weight or improve fitness should be commended for their resolve and assisted in their efforts, not fleeced by companies who make unsubstantiated claims. If a "miracle drug" or other quick weight loss scheme sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Before starting a weight-loss program, BBB advises consumers to consult a doctor for an assessment of overall health risks. The doctor may recommend options for losing weight or exercise programs that fit your health status and your ability to stick with a program.

Always ask your doctor about any diet medication or supplement you intend to start taking. If your doctor prescribes you such a medication, ask about any side effects or possible complications, and report back to the doctor about any changes you experience after taking the medication.

BBB offers these tips for investing in diet or fitness plans or products:

Ask your doctor what an achievable weight loss goal for you would be. Beware of claims that you will lose dozens of pounds within a short time period like a few weeks; most people's bodies can't accommodate that kind of weight loss.

Determine your fitness goals. It's hard work to lose weight. Find a program you can stick with, preferably one you enjoy. Does a weight loss plan require you to buy special foods? Can you cancel if you find the program doesn't meet your needs?

Avoid products that claim to help you lose weight without diet or exercise and be skeptical of claims 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. Try filling up on healthy vegetables and fruits so you can resist high-calorie treats. However, eliminating all your favorites could set you up to fail. It's better to limit portion size or how frequently you indulge.

Be suspicious of taking special pills, powders or herbs. Sometimes these are gimmicks and offer little or no accurate scientific research to back up the claims.

Be wary of a lack of ingredient list. Some companies have been accused of not advertising certain ingredients that can come with harmful side effects or mix adversely with prescription drugs you may be taking.

There is never a guarantee when it comes to weight loss. Be cautious when a company says it can guarantee weight loss. There is no magic pill to make you shed pounds. Shady diet supplement companies know that few people will take the time and effort to get their money back so making a money-back guarantee is not a money losing concept. Many companies will not even honor their supposed guarantee.

Be suspicious of extremely positive testimonials on the company website. Testimonials can become an easy marketing tool and are easily faked. These are often accompanied with dramatic before and after pictures.

Read all terms and conditions for any weight loss product you buy. Make sure that you are purchasing only the items you wish to purchase and are not signing up for a subscription unless you want it. Be cautious of any contract that takes payment from your credit card until you cancel.

Research a business's reputation. Some dishonest actors in the industry sell products that don't work, have uncomfortable side effects, or both.

Check with BBB before you buy any product subscriptions. Check a company's BBB Business Profile at bbb.org. Profiles include the firm's complaint history and whether the complaints were resolved. If customers have written reviews, they may appear on a company's profile.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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