Are Anti-Aging Scams Sucking You In?

You’re innocently surfing online, when an advertisement for an anti-aging cream pops up. It promises you’ll look 10 years younger in just 30 days. Best of all, it’s free (and “endorsed” by your favourite celebrity). Once you’ve applied to receive your “risk-free trial” or “free product”, you’re prompted to enter your credit card details for the small shipping and handling fee. You’re getting a free jar of “miracle cream”, so that seems reasonable. You then check the box to accept the terms and conditions, and hit the accept button. And the scam begins.

The Muddy Waters Of Fine Print

You may not even receive your “free trial cream”, but later you’re charged the full price of the product. It turns out you needed to return it within 14 days to avoid being charged the full price, which was pre-authorised on your credit card. What happened to 30 days, you ask? It was all in the nearly invisible fine print. But the worst is yet to come. You’ve signed up for a monthly auto-ship programme. This means you’ll receive shipments every month – and get charged a fee that’s even higher than the original price. The fine print explains that you needed to cancel this “subscription” within 17 days.

Cancellation Challenges

If you think these scammers make it easy for you to cancel your “subscription”, you’re in for a surprise. The call centres have brief operating hours. They refuse to cancel your subscription, telling you to email them. But

they “don’t receive” your emails or requests. They may even promise to cancel it, but they don’t – or do so only when you sign up for another scam. I personally phoned a call centre on numerous occasions on behalf of some patients. The operator pretended she didn’t know what I was talking about and hung up on me. I emailed as well, and was totally ignored. If you do manage to get through, don’t expect a proper refund. If you return the product, you’ll have to pay a shipping and handling fee.

Here’s what Carol, one of our clients, had to say about her experience: “Having watched the Dr Oz Show, I was tempted to try the free trial sample…. Only when it was too late to cancel did I notice the very small, very pale grey notice saying that within 17 days they would invoice me for R1 000+ each month.” FNB Fraud Division confirmed the scam and advised Carol to cancel her credit card. The company still managed to get a debit order through, and Carol has had to open a fraud case to get her money back. She also watches her credit card closely. Once the charges are refused, many of these companies keep charging under a different name.

It’s Illegal… Isn’t it?

Unfortunately not. These scams rely on misleading people, while staying just within the law. The specific company involved with the above complaints made it very difficult to track down their terms and conditions. Here’s what I finally found: “By placing your order today you’ll be shipped a 30-day supply of Anti Ageing Formula and billed only R117, shipping and handling. If you feel Anti-Ageing Formula is not for you, cancel within 17 days from today to avoid enrolment into the Exclusive Anti Ageing Formula auto-shipping programme, which sends you a 1-month supply every 30 days, starting 17 days from shipping of the first bottle, for R1 111 plus shipping and handling of R117. To cancel at any time, call (number), or for more information please visit our website. Please note all charges will be settled in current USD rates.”

Where do these products come from?

Who knows? There is very little, if any, information about these companies or the ingredients in their products. This makes it difficult to determine who manufactures them or under what conditions they are manufactured. There’s also no way of knowing what’s in them or how much of an active ingredient they contain. These companies also create fake customers who give rave reviews. That’s because there isn’t a shred of clinical evidence to back up their claims. Do you still want to put these “ anti-aging miracle creams” on your face?

How to spot an anti-aging scam:

Here are the most common claims these companies use to hook you:

  • You’ll look 10 years younger in just 30 days.
  • The formula is 100% natural – but no ingredients are listed or discussed.
  • The free anti-aging trial is for a limited period only or there is a limited amount of stock. Get it while it lasts!
  • You will be one of the few people to share the celebrity’s secret ingredient.

Fake clinical reviews and trials show amazing “scientific anti-aging results”. Fake celebrity endorsements confirm those results. And a firm favourite: nine out of 10 dermatologists recommend using this product. Of course, we all want to look and feel a little younger and better about ourselves, so these anti-aging scams can be difficult to resist. Here are some tips:

  • Know the company you’re buying from. There are reputable online stores in South Africa selling excellent skincare products without scams or schemes. Their terms are simple and transparent, and you can easily get information about them.
  • Keep it simple. Make sunscreen a priority, and keep your home skincare regime simple. Too many products and steps leads to confusion, lack of compliance and higher costs.
  • Look for active ingredients with scientific evidence that they combat aging and increase skin turnover, such as retinol or alpha hydroxy acids.
  • If you have specific skin concerns, see a specialist or a doctor with a special interest in aesthetic medicine for advice.
  • Don’t be tempted to give out your credit card details to receive free samples or trials of miracle creams. There are no such creams.

To learn more about safety in aesthetic medicine and for AAMSSA doctors in your area, visit Aesthetic Doctors, or email

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