Walingford, CT, January 29, 2009 --(PR.com
)-- Connecticut Better Business is warning consumers about misleading sales and marketing practices and a not-so-free “free trial” of acai (pronounced Ah-Sa-E) weight loss supplements.
BBB has received thousands of complaints nationwide about repeating credit card charges when consumers sign-up for a free trial.
Connecticut Better Business Bureau President, Paulette Scarpetti, says some acai berry vendors are relying on celebrities to boost sales.
“Celebrity endorsements are a powerful marketing tool, but in this case, not only are the supplements’ benefits overstated, but consumers are being charged for what is supposed to be a free trial, which, in the final analysis, continues to cost them month after month.”
Acai berry marketing touts the products as capable of fighting cancer and aging, shortening the length of a cold, assisting white blood cells attack and destroy viruses, bacteria, and parasites, and promoting dietary health and weight loss.
The acai industry is big business. Sales of these products in the form of supplements, teas and juices approached $15 million last year alone. These supplements however, have not been evaluated by the FDA and their efficacy is questionable.
Scarpetti says the majority of complaints involve problems with the so-called “free trial.”
“Many of the companies selling these products are using the same sales model for their acai products: They lure customers with celebrity endorsements and free trial offers, and then lock them in by making it extremely difficult to cancel the automatic monthly delivery of more acai products and recurring charges.
“These companies are abusing endorsements from well-known, trusted celebrities as a tacit endorsement of the products and their sellers.”
In the case of one supplement vendor, the company offers a risk-free trial for the cost of shipping and handling. If consumers do not cancel within the trial period they are sent additional product every month and billed for $85.90.
Complainants said they had difficulty canceling their subscription; some tried reaching the sellers by telephone only to find out the number was out of service or continuously busy, or they were simply shunted to voicemail.
Attempts to stop the recurring charges by e-mail were equally fruitless: the e-mail address did not work or the consumer continued to be billed despite repeated e-mails. Several customers reported they were forced to close their bank accounts and cancel credit cards to stop the billing.
Before purchasing acai products, Connecticut Better Business Bureau recommends first checking out the seller’s reputation by requesting a free Reliability Report at www.bbb.org in the consumer section, under “Check out a business or charity.” Consumers shopping online should look for the BBB seal on distributors’ web sites and click on the seal to confirm its legitimacy.