updated 9/15/2006 9:33:12 PM ET 2006-09-16T01:33:12

Whether looking for a shortcut to losing weight or for a miracle cream, consumers may be spending billions of dollars on unproven, fraudulently-marketed, and even useless products, devices or treatments.

Some products promise quick cures and easy solutions to a variety of problems from obesity to cancer. But people who fall for fraudulent products don't find help or better health. Instead, they find themselves cheated out of their money, their time, and maybe even their health.

To avoid becoming a victim, it's important for consumers to learn how to assess claims and seek the advice of a health professional. The Federal Trade Commission's message is this: evaluate a 30-minute ad with the same scrutiny as a 30-second ad.

Below are some tips from the FTC:

  • Be skeptical. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. For example, claims that a supplement allows you to eat all you want and lose weight effortlessly are false.
  • Another sign of a fraudulent claim are statements that suggest the product can treat or cure diseases. Companies who want to make such claims must follow the FDA's pre-market testing and review process required for new drugs.
  • Big words. Be wary of promotions that use words like "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous cure," "exclusive product," "secret ingredient," or "ancient remedy."
  • Also watch out for text that uses impressive-sounding terms, a weight-loss product described with words like "hunger stimulation point" and "thermogenesis."
  • Time-limits? Limited availability and advance payment requirements are a red flag. Resist pressure to decide on the spot about trying an untested product or treatment. Ask for more information and consult a knowledgeable doctor, pharmacists, or other health care professional. Promoters of legitimate products do not object to seeking additional information.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Click here for publications on miracle health claims, weighing evidence in diet ads, and tips on buying exercise equipment.

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