Financial Misconduct by Infomercial Marketers

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
March 7, 2008

The vast majority of health-related products promoted through infomercials don’t work as advertised. Nevertheless, millions of people buy such products every year. Some buyers trust what is said and think that if the claims were not true, they somehow wouldn’t be “allowed.” Others think they have nothing to lose if there is a money-back guarantee or free trial. Unfortunately, money-back guarantees are often no better than the products, and “free” trials can be very costly.

Buying with a credit card offers some protection, because credit card companies might reverse the sale if you complain within 60 days after your credit card bill arrives. However, some companies make unauthorized charges that increase the amount for which you are at risk.

Many infomercial marketers use the initial contact as an opportunity to increase the sale. This “upselling” can involve additional products, larger quantities, and faster delivery.

Sometimes products don’t come. Some sellers do not deliver because it is more profitable to take your money and run. Others charge your credit card immediately but delay delivery so that by the time your product does arrive, it is too late to get your credit card company to issue a chargeback.

Many companies promise to send refunds but never do so. They know that if they can prevent you from complaining to the credit card company until more than 60 days have passed after your bill arrives, the credit card company might be unwilling to issue a chargeback. Many companies provide a number to call when you want a refund. but callers may find that it is perpetually busy or, if they do get an answer, they are put on hold for a long time.

Companies that offer free trials typically ask that you place an order for monthly shipments that will come automatically unless you cancel. But people who want to cancel may find that they have forgotten the number to call, the number doesn’t work, or the products keep coming regardless of what they do. Some companies send products that were never ordered, and some make other unauthorized charges simply because they want to. Some companies say that once a package is opened the item cannot be returned. In other words, trying the product voids the “money back” guarantee. The Web site has posted thousands of complaints from people who were ripped off by infomercial marketers.

The best way to protect yourself from infomercial scams is stay away from health-related infomercials and the Web sites of their marketers. If you must order a product, by a minimum quantity with no extras and ask your credit card company to reverse the charge as soon as you decide you want a refund or if delivery does not come within 30 days after you place the order. That way your right to help from your credit card company will be preserved.
If you return a product, use a delivery service that tracks the package or issues a return receipt. If you can’t prove you sent it, they might deny receiving it.

This article was posted on March 7, 2008.