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The Chicago Better Business Bureau issues warning about deceptive advertisments

April 14, 2009 – The Better Business Bureau of Chicago is advising consumers to read the fine print on ads on social networking and other websites before giving personal information or ordering products.

“People need to use extreme caution and read the fine print before handing over their credit card information to a an online advertiser,” said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois in a press release. “Just because an ad appears on a website they trust, it doesn’t mean they can always trust the advertisers.”

Recently, the BBB has dealt with several complains about deceptive weight loss ads where the consumer was charged more than the trial fee.

Cindy Pearson clicked on an ad for acai (pronounced a-sigh-EE) berry, which promoted weight loss and colon cleansing. Pearson said she read all the information before ordering the product for its $4.95 trial fee.

What she received was the product, gum and oil, along with a $40 charge.

Pearson attempted to contact the company, Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc, to find out how to get instructions on how to send it back. But to no avail, she could not reach anyone at the company and had to turn to the BBB for assistance.

“It’s kinda of nasty, because I read all the fine print and I didn’t see anything telling me I was getting extra products… but if you can’t get anyone to answer the phone, you can’t get the paper work or authorization you need to return it,” said Pearson.

Representatives at Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc. did not respond to e-mail requests for an interview.

The BBB was able to resolve Pearson’s complaint on her behalf, but she was still charged a  $15 restocking fee.

The consumer advocacy group, the National Consumers League, said the acai berry scams are attractive because they are not high profile, like phishing or wiring money.

“I think people, after awhile get used to certain scams. So, they don’t fall for them anymore. When people see something like acai berry, they’re like ‘what’s that?’ and they might be a little more curious and click on the link,” said John Breyault, vice president of public policy and telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League.

Breyault said his organization has seen a recent “anecdotal” rise in complaints with online weight lost scams. He said there are several ways to determine if a company is legitimate.

Breyault advices consumers to check the websites for contact information about the company, such as a physical address or phone number. If there is contact information, you can check further by calling your local BBB or chamber of commerce to see if the company is actually registered where they claim to be operating from. Also, companies are required to register with their state corporation commission and local business licensing departments.

Breyault said that most companies also register with their local chamber of commerce and BBB.

Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc. has received an “F” rating, according to In the past 36 months, the BBB has received a total of 1,997 complaints, 719 of them dealing with refund practices. In December 2008, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the company and its president and CEO alleging violations of consumer fraud.

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