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CAB - Problems with slimming pills increase eight-fold

The number of reported problems with slimming pills has risen by more than 710 per cent in two years.

New figures from Citizens Advice, out recently, finds that 189 problems with slimming pills were reported to the charity's consumer service in April to June 2012 but complaints have soared in two years to 1,531 in April to June 2014.

The warning comes on New Year’s Day when many people may be thinking of making losing weight this year's resolution and looking for ways to go about it.

Analysis of problems report to the charity's national consumer helpline finds the majority of complaints are about continuous payment authorities being used to take money from people’s debit or credit card without their permission.

Evidence from Citizens Advice finds people are losing, on average, £150 a time after signing up to 'free' or 'small fee' trials of pills. Despite debit or credit card details only being given for postage and packaging money is taken as a long-term subscription to the product. In some cases, when people try to cancel within the 14 day cooling off period, they can't.

One example analysed by the consumer body reveals the terms and conditions did state that buyers were signing up to a continuous payment authority for the products – but that was buried more than one thousand words into the document.  

Citizens Advice analysis of 7,000 cases dating back to April 2012 reveals:  

  • 88 per cent were online purchases with a credit or debit card; compared to 8 per cent for all consumer queries to the helpline
  • 73 per cent were assessed by consumer service advisers at as potential criminal breaches of consumer protection legislation; compared to 16 per cent for all queries to the helpline
  • Slimming pills are one of the top 20 problems reported to the consumer service in the last six months.
  • The majority of the slimming pill companies that Citizens Advice received complaints about are firms based abroad with distribution houses in the UK.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“People's bank balances are lighter following slimming pill dupes.  Burying the actual cost deep into the small print is misleading customers into believing that the trial they are signing up to is free or for a small fee.  Instead they are out of pocket by £150.  

“The rate things are going people complaining about these products could together have lost £1 million within 12 months.  It’s really important companies provide all of the necessary information so dieters know what they are signing up to.  

“Shoppers can protect themselves by looking through the small print carefully.  Key words to look out for include continuous payment authorities, guaranteed payments, subscription and recurring transaction.  Banks need to help their customers by fulfilling their obligations to cancel these continuous payment authorities when asked.”

Anyone who has experienced problems buying slimming pills can contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 040506 or get help online at www.adviceguide.org.uk

Advice for consumers

Before buying:

  1. Do some research on a company before you buy from them online.
  2. Always check through the terms and conditions before you give out financial details – in particular look for phrases like: continuous payment authorities, guaranteed payments, subscription and recurring transaction.

If you think you’ve been misled:

  1. Try to contact the trader if you feel the charges were not clear, and explain that you are not paying.
  2. Check with your bank or credit card company to see if you can get a refund as soon as possible, if you feel you were misled.
  3. Look out for a disclaimer that says “Terms and Conditions apply” or similar – if there is no such disclaimer you have a stronger case for having been misled.

Reporting the problem:

  1. You can report potential scams to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
  2. You can report misleading slimming pill firms to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service on  03454 04 05 06 (or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language).

Citizens Advice

Notes to editors:

  1. To contact the Citizens Advice news team call the press office on 03000 231 080, or via email at press.office@citizensadvice.org.uk.
  2. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  3. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  4. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
  5. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  6. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.
Channel website: https://www.icaew.com

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