Acai Berry Scams: The Top 5 Acai-Related Scams
It’s unfortunate that something as innocuous as the Acai berry—the fruit of a south and central American palm tree and a rich source of antioxidant compounds—be targeted by various scumbags as the “vehicle” to perpetuate an entire assortment of scams online.
Unfortunate, but explainable.
For as long as they’ve been emerging from the jungles around the world, the benefits associated with novel and exotic fruits have rarely been based upon any clinically demonstrated benefits. This problem isn’t helped by the fact that these “superfruits” are often retailed through pyramid schemes, where every enthusiastic user also has a vested interest in selling you on the product. Conflict of interest, anyone?
Brian Dunning, over at Skeptoid.com, nailed it when he said…”“Superfruit juices are a business model first; a salable product second; and a well-evidenced health product a distant third.”
And when the acai berry received major national and international coverage by being mentioned by Dr. Perricone on the Oprah Winfrey show a few years back, the scammers sprang into action. That said, here are the top 5 acai berry scams…
1. The “false claims” scam: Retailers of acai-based products make all sorts of outlandish claims for their products; that they burn off fat, eliminate toxins, rid the body of dangerous “waste” build up, and so on. As mentioned earlier, acai does offer some benefits, although all are attributable to its antioxidant content. These include anti-aging and anti-cancer properties as well as protective effects against cardiovascular disease.
There is exactly ZERO evidence that acai “detoxifies the body”, “cleans your colon” or offers any benefits for weight loss. In fact, there’s no preliminary evidence to even suggest this might be possible.
We’ve been reviewing supplements for well over a decade now, and usually when retailers make a claim for a product, there’s a grain of truth lurking somewhere (for example, the supplement might contain a compound that inhibits the action of an enzyme that facilitates fat or carbohydrate metabolism. Or it contains methylxanthines—caffeine and caffeine-related compounds that stimulate the central nervous system and boost the metabolism).
Not in the case of acai. These claims appear to be entirely without merit.
2. The celebrity endorsement scam: It’s not uncommon to see the smiling faces of celebrities like Oprah, Dr. Perricone and recently, Rachel Ray, posted on the web sites of acai-based products.
Often the retailers will use words like “as featured on” beside their faces, suggesting that their product was specifically mentioned and endorsed by the featured celebrity. 99 times out of 100, this is not the case.
In fact in 2009, Oprah filed a Federal Trademark infringement suit against the retailers of 40 supplements in an attempt to curtail this behavior. This after her web site fielded thousands of complaints from angry customers thinking Oprah herself had endorsed these products.
3. The “free trial” scam: Although this is a common online scam, acai-retailers have been among the greatest perpetrators of it. Here’s how it works…
The acai retailer offers a 5-7 day free trial of their product in what you perceive to be a gesture of goodwill and confidence in its effectiveness. There’s a small shipping charge associated with your trial of course, and that’s the catch; you have to give up your credit card number.
You see, this “free trial” isn’t a free trial at all; it’s an enrollment in an autoship program. That’s correct; if you don’t cancel your membership within the allotted time (usually 7-10 days) the retailer will send you fresh product on a monthly basis and bill your credit card accordingly.
The problem is that most people aren’t even aware participation in the free trial enrolls them into such a program (the terms and conditions are often in very small print, difficult to read, or hidden in the dark recesses of the web site somewhere).
And even if they are, it’s almost impossible to cancel according to the program’s stipulations. That’s because these trials start on the day you order, not on the day you receive the product.
Think about it; suppose you have a 7-day trial, and 7 days to cancel your membership in the “membership program.” Suppose your product takes 3 days to arrive at your door—if you take the product for 7 days before canceling, you’re already too late.
In a perfect world, you’d simply cancel your membership in the program, and many retailers claim to honor such requests. Thing is, most do not.
Hundreds of people have written to us saying retailers have continued to bill them over and over and over again, despite repeated requests for cancellation. Often, the customer has to cancel his/her bank or credit cards to get the charges stopped (see our video on the free trial scam for more details!).
There’s good and bad news on this front. The good news is that various Attorney Generals and government regulatory agencies have begun taking action against these scumbags (see here, here, here and here as examples). The bad news is that this remains commonplace online.
4. The “high ORAC” scam: ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, and in a nutshell it’s a value used to measure the antioxidant capacity of a food source. Retailers like to trumpet acai’s high ORAC score to qualify their claims that it is an amazing antioxidant and something you must immediately add to your diet. But, as Elissa outlines in this blog post, it’s not as simple as that.
Simply put, high ORAC foods may not offer significant benefits over less exotic, cheaper alternatives that have lower ORAC values.
5. The “thrilled customer” testimonials scam: Testimonials, even when they are 100% genuine, are not credible representations of a product’s effectiveness (or even its ineffectiveness, for that matter). When they are presented by the same folks who have a financial interest in presenting a product in the best possible light, they should not be trusted at all. When you can’t verify the authenticity of a customer’s comment you should allot it exactly the same credibility as no testimonial at all.
So there you have it; the top 5 acai berry scams.
The best way to avoid being scammed when purchasing acai is to avoid products sold via flashy online sales sites by anonymous retailers, or people you’ve never heard of. Instead, stick to credible online retailers who you can trust to stand behind their products (we recommend iHerb.com; use the coupon code FAT259 to get $5 off your first order).