Warning of diet pill scam

Brian Hogan with his daughter Chloe at their home in South Auckland.
Peter Meecham

Brian Hogan with his daughter Chloe at their home in South Auckland.

Marathon runner Chloe Hogan was confined to a wheelchair after a car accident that left her unable to walk. Desperate to find a "silver bullet" solution to his 24-year-old daughter's weight gain, Brian Hogan admits his usually sound judgement went awry when he saw an advertisement on a Kiwi website for "miracle" diet-pill Garcinia Cambogia.

Various websites registered to addresses in the United States, Canada and Hong Kong promise Garcinia Cambogia will "burn fat, suppress your appetite and increase serotonin levels".

"It was quite compelling the information they provided so I was hooked, I sent them my details."

He paid about $17 for two bottles of pills and a month later was sent an email saying there was another two-for-one deal available, which he accepted.

Last month, after reading about the experience of columnist Megan Nicol-Reed, who wrote about how she had been scammed into buying Garcinia Cambogia and struggled to get a refund, Hogan realised: "I thought holy s--- I've been done".

He was horrified to find the company continued to take $887 in eight separate transactions over and above what he'd already paid.

Calls to the numbers provided online were met with voicemail systems so Hogan contacted BNZ to cancel his Visa.

"She said you're my 35th client cancelling your Visa today."

NetSafe are among those now warning about the danger of buying diet pills online. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says Kiwis were scammed out of more than $27,000 last year by people peddling the pill, including one loss of $20,000 to an individual who tried to buy into the 'business'.

NetSafe digital project manger Chris Hailssaid they had received 18 reports of scams connected to Garcinia Cambogia, a "genuine" natural product available in some health stores.

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Hails said overseas scammers set up websites with bogus claims of miracle results and unwitting buyers were generally enticed into buying a two-for-one deal, or a special-priced bottle of pills before extra charges were billed to their account.

Three victims told of  the companies continued debiting money after the initial payment and were told it was part of the terms and conditions of a 'contract' they'd signed up to.

The only way of cancelling it is to get hold of the suppliers, although many contact numbers are manned by a voice messaging system, or by cancelling the card.

Calls to a New Zealand 0800 number registered to a website called liveslimmer.com were put through to an American customer services representative who said she was the "most senior supervisor" the newspaper could speak to.

She didn't give her surname and promised a manager would call to address scam claims. No-one did.

Customers who agreed to the terms and conditions were bound by a contract she said, but refused to discuss the matter further.

Hails said NetSafe was well aware of the various scams associated with the diet pill and that while the losses were significant to individuals it was a "low-level fraud" that didn't warrant a large-scale investigation.

Health and fitness scams made up just a tiny fraction of the thousands of reported internet-based scams and consumers were advised to spend time checking out a company before handing over precious digits, he said.

Hogan's bank was reversing the transactions and a BNZ spokeswoman said it was aware of the scam but didn't track the number of complaints or card cancellations. "However, we have put measures in place to try to stop customers being affected by this in the future."

She declined to say what those measures were to prevent scammers from getting around their systems.

The Department of Internal Affairs said it had no records of a Garcinia Cambogia scam or anything related to the Live Slimmer website.

A spokesman said the department's electronic messaging compliance investigators advised people to take the "utmost care" and check all terms and conditions.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

 - Stuff


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