3 Stupid Pitches Customers Fell For

Last Updated Jul 5, 2011 1:04 PM EDT

Can you believe what some customers fall for these days?

Here's one: The Federal Trade Commission just reached a $900,000 settlement agreement with Beiersdorf, Inc., the maker of Nivea cream. The company had been falsely claiming that its My Silhouette! cream could help you lose weight, according to the government.

A weight loss cream? Whatever happened to diet and exercise?

Beiersdorf said that by regularly applying My Silhouette!, consumers could slim down. Here's how the FTC says it pitched the product:

One television ad depicts a woman getting dressed after having applied Nivea My Silhouette! cream to her stomach and thighs.

She digs through the back of her closet, tries on a pair of old jeans, and discovers that they now fit.

During the ad, the voice-over says: "New Nivea My Silhouette! with Bio-Slim Complex helps redefine the appearance of your silhouette and noticeably firm skin in just four weeks. So you can rediscover your favorite jeans. And how they still get his attention. New Nivea My Silhouette! with Bio-Slim Complex. Touch and be touched."

Here's another one.

In June, the FTC shut down another well-known scam: a work-at-home offer that deceptively marketed and sold booklets that supposedly explained how to earn money by working from home or applying for government grants.

A federal judge ordered Real Wealth, Inc. and its owner, Lance Murkin, to pay $10.4 million, the full amount of harm caused to thousands of consumers nationwide who were victimized by the company's scams, according to the FTC. The court also banned the defendants from marketing or selling work-at-home or grant-related products, and from assisting others in doing so.

If you still think customers have a little common sense, consider the recent case of Russell Dalbey, the CEO and founder of the company behind the "wealth-building" program Winning in the Cash Flow Business.

The government charged him with defrauding consumers, in some cases out of thousands of dollars, with phony claims that they could make large amounts of money quickly and easily by finding, brokering, and earning commissions on seller-financed promissory notes.

David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, sums up the alleged swindle as follows:

Winning in the Cash Flow Business was a real loser for hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide.

When someone is selling a program designed to help people make money, they have to accurately describe how much consumers can expect to make and be truthful about how quickly they will be able to do so.

None of that happened in this case, and people who bought the program paid the price.

I can't read about these scams without shaking my head.

Did people really think they could work lose weight by applying cream to their legs? Or fall for a work-from-home or get-rich-quick scheme â€" two of the most time-honored scams in the book?

Yes, they did.

To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, it isn't that there's a sucker born every minute; it's that a sucker is had by an unscrupulous company every minute.

The FTCs enforcement actions suggest that customers are as gullible as ever. They don't just fall for scams that are too good to be true. They also fall for the ones that are recycled.

Is there any pitch we won't swallow hook, line and sinker? Apparently not.

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Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.