How To Avoid Getting Scammed / Ripped Off Buying Supplements Online
Rarely a day goes by that a visitor to either this site or Real-Customer-Comments.com does not have a horror story to relate about some supplement retailer or another. These range from recurring billing scams, to poor or non-existent customer service delivered by unfriendly or downright rude sales reps, to the failure to honor a guarantee or even ship the product in the first place.
Having heard every “story in the book”, we’re perfectly positioned to advise you on how to avoid being ripped off online. To that end, we’ve come up with a “to do” list that will help you do just that. And please…
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Let’s get started learning how to avoid getting ripped off purchasing supplements online…
1. Always know who you are doing business with
If you don’t recognize the company you’re considering making a purchase from, always, always, always find out who you are doing business with before you consider parting with your credit card information. Start by checking the “About Us” section of the web site. If that page says something like…
“Here at SomeSupplementSalesSite.com, we are dedicated to bringing you the highest quality supplements manufactured in world class facilities. Our products are backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee…”
… you will want to leave the site immediately.
That’s because none of this tells you anything about who, exactly, is “behind” the site. And trust us, there is exactly no good reason why a retailer would want to hide his/her identity. The main reason for doing so is to avoid accountability to you, the consumer.
After all, it’s going to be really difficult to obtain a refund or file a complaint if you don’t even know who you purchased the product from.
It’s entirely possible you’re considering making a purchase from a couple of shady entrepreneurs set up in their basement with a computer, a capsule filling machine, a box of plastic bottles and a laser printer (yes, that and a web site is all you need to sell your own supplements. Yes, really).
And that picture of the magnificent skyscraper featured as their corporate headquarters on the “about us” page? A stock photo from BigStockPhoto.com.
And if you can’t find out who you are doing business with?
Don’t proceed with the transaction.
2. Check to see if the business is listed with the Better Business Bureau
Once you’ve found out who you’re doing business with, see if they’re listed with the Better Business Bureau and how they’ve performed.
3. Search for complaints on consumer advocacy sites.
Two good places to look are RipoffReport.com and ComplaintsBoard.com for the product you’re considering (you can also perform a search for the name of the company, should you know it): both these sites allow consumers to post complaints about products and unscrupulous companies.
If the product you’re considering has received a lot of negative comments, you have your answer; don’t buy. Keep in mind that new products won’t necessarily have any complaints posted yet, so don’t take the absence of comments as a “green light.”
Here’s where it can get a bit complicated: To my knowledge, neither of these sites screen the people who post comments in any meaningful way, so just about anybody can say anything about anyone (last I checked, UltimateFatBurner.com has a listing at ComplaintsBoard, obviously posted by someone who owns or is affiliated with a product about which we’ve had less than positive things to say).
It’s extremely likely some of the negative comments are not genuine; posted by the employees or affiliates of competitors in an attempt to “tarnish” the brand of the product in question, and drive sales to their own products. So you need to use your own judgment, and see if the comments pass the “smell” test. Chances are if there are enough of them, some of them will be genuine, which should provide more than enough information to base your decision.
Also, check our own Biggest Scam Retailers page; we have many of the worst offenders and their products listed here.
4. Give no credence to testimonials
Even when 100% genuine, testimonials are highly suspect. They are always anecdotal, and need to be taken with a grain of salt, as most people simply don’t recognize the large number of factors which may or may not be contributing to their success and/or failure with any product.
The problem is that online, there is no way to determine which testimonials are genuine, and which are not. They may be entirely manufactured by the retailer. Or, the retailer may “cherry pick” the comments they receive and only post the “good ones”, leading to an artificially positive view of their product.
What if you find reams of seemingly positive comments strewn across related web sites? Again, it’s impossible to verify them. And it’s easy for a retailer to create the illusion of a great product.
If I wanted to, for instance, I could go to a web site like this one, and for about $50, hire 300 people to post a comment and a link on any blog or forum I like, “saying” exactly what I want them to say. For a few hundred dollars, I could certainly make it appear ANY product was all the rage.
The other possibility is that the web sites featuring the positive comments are owned by the same retailer; this happens ALL the time. Check out the article, “Who’s Reviewing Your Weight Loss Supplements” for more on this.
5. View product recommendations with skepticism
In the vast majority of cases, the web sites making the recommendations are either owned by the manufacturer or retailer of the product they are recommending, or they receive a huge commission on referred sales. And while there’s nothing wrong with earning a commission on products made in the genuine best interest of your customer, I would argue that recommending vastly overpriced and under-engineered products to your visitors for a huge commission hardly falls into that category.
See the article “Who’s Reviewing Your Weight Loss Supplements” for more information on this.
6. Approach “review” sites with skepticism
This ties into #6 above; most “review” sites are entirely bogus sales or commission generating vehicles.The information they offer is always extremely generic, they may reference clinical studies, but they never dissect them or link to them to see what they actually say.
If you’re not sure whether the “review” site you’re checking out is genuine, ask yourself these questions…
- Is this web site recommending a product that is only available online?
- Is this product vastly more expensive than comparable, readily available commercial products?
- Does this web site provide a live link to the clinical studies they reference and do they dissect them for you, discussing the pros, cons, and possible shortcomings?
If you answered yes, yes and no you’ve got a bogus review site…
- Recommending products only available online: This prevents you from buying the product at your local Wal-Mart, keeping your money in their pockets.
- Recommending vastly more expensive products: These products aren’t expensive because they contain “advanced” formulas (if you’ve read our reviews you’ll know their ingredients profiles are similar to, or inferior to, readily available products). It’s because of the 30-50% commission built into the products. This artificially inflates the price, and ensures there are hordes of eager promoters.
- No links to clinical studies and dissection of them: As an example, a product we reviewed recently cited a positive clinical study to validate one of the ingredients included in its formula. As we pointed out, the study may have been positive, but it was “under-whelming”; just slightly over 2 lbs lost in 6 months. Whoops. That’s the part they “forgot” to mention. It’s one thing to say a positive study exists, it’s another to explain it in context. Big difference.
7. Avoid any offer that allows you to try a product for free
Let me say this again, so you don’t miss it, or underestimate how critical this is.
AVOID ANY OFFER THAT ALLOWS YOU TO TRY A PRODUCT FOR FREE!!!
Because this isn’t what you think it is—a good faith demonstration of a manufacturer’s confidence in his/her product—but a means to enroll you in a recurring billing program.
The goal of the “free trial” program (also called “negative option billing”) from the retailer’s perspective is to obtain your credit card, so you can be billed repeatedly on a monthly basis for fresh refills of the product. Here’s the important point…
Most people added to such programs do not know they are signing up to participate in them.
Yes, the fact that you are “participating” is usually revealed, but it’s often in very small print or hidden away in a dark recess of the web site somewhere. Even if you are aware of the terms and conditions of such an offer, it’s almost impossible to cancel your trial in accordance with the agreement. And then, it’s almost impossible to get the retailer to stop billing you. Our visitors have told us the only way to get the charges stopped is to have your bank cancel your credit or debit card and reissue you a new one.
If there’s ONE thing you get from this article, please let it be this: Do not—under ANY circumstances—sign up to try any product for free.
For complete details on this, check out our video on the “free trial scam.”
8. Recognize the difference between editorial and advertising
It’s perfectly reasonable for reputable web sites to feature advertising on their pages. This serves to offset the cost of maintaining the web site and to pay contributing authors or staff. This may be an unfortunate reality, but it is reality nonetheless.
Sometimes however—perhaps because of the relative “newness” and “novelty” of the Internet—visitors perceive the advertisements as receiving an endorsement from the web site featuring them.
Don’t make this mistake; it’s not the case.
Always recognize the difference between editorial and advertising. If a print publication features a Budweiser or a Smirnoff ad, most people don’t assume the publishers condone or endorse alcoholism, spousal abuse or drunk driving. In other words, just because an ad resides on a trusted online resource, doesn’t mean the webmasters condone or endorse that service, product, or retailer.
We’ve had people accuse us of being unethical because on occasion the ads generated by our providers (Google, Chitika, Netseer, etc) will run contrary to the message delivered in our editorial material. What would be unethical would be to write editorial material supportive of the advertising material for the express reason to elicit click throughs (we only get paid when someone clicks on an ad).
If the editorial material we present contradicts that of the advertising, what better way to call attention to the difference between editorial and advertising?
So there you have it…
8 ways to avoid getting ripped off buying your supplements online. Follow these tips, and your credit card will remain safe and sound!