A weight-loss firm has been accused of ruthlessly targeting teenagers by enticing them to sign up for ‘free’ trials of their products.
US-based Healthy Essentials offer image conscious youngsters the chance to burn fat and lose food cravings by using NutriBerry slim. But after signing up for a free sample the nutrition company continues to ship their weight-loss aid and automatically takes payment. Hundreds have been affected.
Jac Jenkins, who runs a website called yourweightlossaid.com, whichoffers health advice, said: “We’ve been inundated with complaints. We currently have about 500 reports from people who feel they’ve been ripped off by similar offers. No one ever reads the terms and conditions before signing up. All they see is ‘Risk-Free Trial’ and automatically believe that is the case.”
She added: “There are hundreds of similar schemes online and not only for diet products. More should be done to protect the consumer.”
Florida firm Health Essentials asks for bank details to be provided to cover the £3.99 postage and packaging costs before dispatching a trial bottle of NutriBerry. Those affected claim they handed over bank or credit card details in the belief they were making a one-off purchase of a free sample, but later discovered their accounts had been plundered for hundreds.
Sandra Rankin’s daughter Linzi was attracted to the free trial after completing an online survey. She said: “I’ve done everything I can to put a stop to the cash coming out of my account. Linzi thought it was a free sample, but they kept sending us bottles of pills and taking payment.
“It’s not just about the cash, they’re also placing these invitations where easily influenced teenage girls can be persuaded to sign up. Some sort of regulation needs to be brought in.”
Despite Sandra contacting Health Essentials and cancelling the trial period almost £150 had been drained from her account.
The 47-year-old Falkirk Council finance worker explained: “I wrote to them explaining there had been a mistake, returned what was sent, and asking if I could have my money back. But I’ve heard nothing back and more of the product was sent to the house.
“The bank told me because the money is not being taken via a direct debit it’s not something I can cancel. Linzi has never had a problem before with online shopping. She is responsible and web savvy.
“Quite apart from anything else it’s dangerous for kids at their age to be taking dietary supplements.”
Denny High School pupil Linzi signed up for the supplements after looking for a Christmas party dress.
The 16-year-old explained: “I was on a shopping site Boo Hoo looking for something nice to wear for a party, but there was nothing on it that I wanted so I tried to leave. But, as I did, a pop up appeared asking if I would complete a survey.
“In return I was told I’d qualify for a free sample of what I thought were vitamins. Mum gave me her bank card to pay for the postage and packaging for the free gift. It was a mistake and now we can’t seem to get out of it.”
Health Essentials gives Linlithgow as its address, but as this is just a distribution office and not the company itself Trading Standards are powerless to act.
Our reporter approached Health Essentials for a comment but his calls were not returned.
Boo Hoo insisted the survey was not directly connected with it and are looking into the matter.
Always read the small print
Trading Standards officials advise consumers who may be tempted by ‘free trials’ to check the small print. It is also important to consider why a company is asking for debit or credit card details if the offer is free of charge.
However, people do have some protection under the law. There’s a legal right to cancel the transaction within seven days. For those finding it difficult getting in touch with the seller, the next step is to contact their bank to stop future payments.
For free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues visit Citizens Advice or call on 08454 04 05 06.