White pads that turn colors as they detoxify your body through your feet. Machines that give you amazing abs in just six seconds a day. All kinds of other gadgets and gizmos that are useless, poorly made and don’t work. These are the glories of infomercials. According to a recent New York Times article, buying those tchotchkes may do more than waste your money; it may put your credit card in danger.
InfomercialScams.com, a Web site where consumers can leave complaints about less-than-favorable experiences with infomercial buys, is referenced in the article. People lament bogus credit card charges, not receiving a product until after the free 30-day trial has expired and malfunctioning products with no clear return policy. Some people were told they’d pay only for shipping and get a product free, but their credit cards were later charged for products they didn’t know they’d ordered. Others say when they call the company from which they bought the product, the number is invalid or the customer service representatives don’t respond.
The article says infomercials have seeped from late night trash TV into mainstream programming, sometimes so seamlessly that consumers think they’re watching a legitimate ad rather than a typical infomercial. Because the commercial is playing on a trusted program, consumers feel safer making the purchase.
The Electronic Retailing Association, a trade association for companies selling products on radio, TV and the Internet, launched a self-regulating program in 2004. The director of the program tells the New York Times that the number of infomercials making questionable claims has decreased, and that the organization is working to rid the industry of deceptive ads. That’s all well and good, except many people are still getting scammed.
Offered in the article is this advice: “As tempting as it may be to buy directly from the TV screen, consumers should be skeptical of infomercial promises. Some direct-response marketers prey on handicapped or senior citizens who worry about maintaining financial independence and can be easily misled into enrolling in expensive get-rich schemes. Other ads target religious-minded viewers.”
If the product looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you see something you’re interested in, do some research before immediately making the purchase, and see if it’s legit, or if there’s something similar but more legitimate out there. Those detox foot pads I mentioned earlier? The infomercial intrigued me and I wanted to buy them, but I did some Googling first. I found tons of Web pages where consumers and doctors talked about what a bunch of mumbo jumbo they were. I felt really satisfied I didn’t waste my money on a false claim.
P.S. I followed up this blog with a post on another situation where consumers were deceived by false claims — this time with online advertisements and spam. Check it out!