One increasingly popular way to advertise a niche market product or new invention is through a long form informative television commercial, or infomercial. While infomercials have been used to sell everything from miracle vitamins to exercise equipment, not all of these professionally produced advertisements are telling the complete truth about their products or services. A number of infomercial scams have been exposed over the years, leading many viewers to question the validity of those which have not been investigated as of yet.
Infomercial scams involve presenting false or unsubstantiated claims as fact, employing actors to portray experts, providing scripted testimonials or product reviews, and/or promoting the use of a product known to be unsafe or ineffective. Unscrupulous marketers may also promote complicated get-rich-fast schemes such as real estate flipping or locating homeowners with unclaimed FHA loan refunds.
Exercise equipment is a popular product marketed through infomercial scams, especially devices which have not received general approval by a reputable agency. One series of infomercial scams involved elastic abdominal belts containing battery-powered electrodes. The charged electrodes reportedly stimulated the wearer's abdominal muscles without the need for strenuous traditional exercises such as sit-ups or abdominal crunches. The infomercials did show models with twitching abdominal muscles, but little factual data on the effectiveness or safety of the product.
Some consumers of these weight loss belts suffered painful burns and other injuries as a result of faulty electrodes coming into direct contact with their abdominal skin. As a result, many of the infomercials promoting similar products were soon removed from circulation. Infomercial scams involving other unsafe exercise products have also been pulled or retooled to include more disclaimers and warnings.
Many legitimate infomercials do use scripted testimonials and professional actors to portray television hosts or experts, but there is no intention to sell or promote an inferior or dangerous product to consumers. The product or service may not meet a consumer's expectations, but the infomercial producers did not exaggerate the product's qualities, and used disclaimers such as "results not typical" or "compensated endorsement." Such disclaimers are not usually found in true infomercial scams.
Infomercials often promote specialized or recently developed items with a narrow consumer demographic. While this style of scripted pitch may help sell kitchen gadgets or housekeeping aids, it can also be used by unscrupulous marketers to reach the most vulnerable customers with promises of miraculous weight loss, no-risk investment schemes and life-extending diet supplements. This is why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other consumer watchdog groups keep a very close watch on potential infomercial scams.