I‘ve had lots of fun mocking web scammers! But this time is going to be different.
I’ll be using the Scam-O-Meter, a scientific system for evaluating potential scams that I just made up. It’s September 1, 2016. For our maiden voyage, let’s use the Scam-O-Meter to explore Force Factor’s VolcaNO.
Since I last looked at their web site, Force Factor has reworked it into a one-two punch. You start out with an innocuous-looking product description. If you go for the free sample, it switches to pictures of huge muscles and the megaphone comes out.
My Scam-O-Meter methodology
Here are ten things that I’ve seen in a lot of web scams. Here’s how I’ll score them:
- Candidate is like this: -1
- I don’t know: 0
- Candidate is not like this: +1
A negative score means it’s probably a scam. Actually, some of these things are so bad that, if a candidate had only that one thing wrong with them, I would run away screaming. But moving right along, let’s play the game and see how it works.
-1 if this product is going to change your whole life, at hardly any cost or risk. +1 if it’s a reasonably useful or fun thing to have.
Force Factor: -1. “VolcaNO is for the SERIOUS competitor — one who isn’t afraid to do the work, but understands that repetition alone won’t get you to the next level and beyond. … Finally, explosive strength, an insane amount of power, virtually endless stamina and incredible energy for every guy looking to shatter plateaus and crush it in the gym, at work and at home.”
Post office box
-1 if the vendor is just a post office box or a similar faceless service. +1 if the vendor has an actual brick-and-mortar facility in the United States.
Force Factor: -1. 105 Commerce Dr, Aston, PA 19014. Google Maps shows that this address is actually “National Fullfillment Service.”
-1 if it’s going to be unreasonably difficult to get a refund. -1 big time if buying the product or accepting a “free” trial sample implicitly starts some kind of subscription, and notice of this trap is buried in the Terms and Conditions. +1 if you get 90 days to return the product, counting from the day you received it, even if you opened and tried it, with no “restocking” fees. Bear in mind that the vendor may not obey his own terms.
Force Factor: 0. It’s a subscription scam, but they do warn you on the order form. Highlights:
- If you accepted the free sample, you have 14 days, not including 4 days allowance for shipping time, to cancel before your automatic subscription kicks in.
- If “you’re unhappy with the product for any reason,” you can return your unused bottle within 30 days from your purchase date (not from the date you received it). Looks like your reason can’t include that you tried the product and didn’t like it!
- You can’t sue them, or join a class action that’s suing them.
Invasion of privacy
-1 if the vendor will use your personal information to spam you, beam ads at you, robocall you, and sell it to other companies unless you opt out. +1 if they only use it to complete the transaction. If you opt in for ads, etc. that doesn’t count against them.
Force Factor: -1. They’ll do all of the above!
Lying and deception
-1 if the vendor says something important that I can easily find out is not true. -1 if he writes in a weasily way that conceals information or implies misinformation.
Force Factor: +1. As far as I can tell, nothing they state is false, tho it seems highly exaggerated. To their credit, they say “There’s not a nitric oxide product on the planet that works without exercise.”
-1 if the information you need (such as the price!) is technically there, but you have to hunt for it and wade thru a lot of obstacles. For example, Ultrabeam Flashlights made the link to their terms and conditions dark gray on a black background; and when you get to them, they’re stuffed with meaningless text.
Force Factor: -1. For a straight-up purchase, Force Factor no longer plays games. But for a “free” sample, you have to take a phony test to find out whether you qualify to be offered the product. Then you have to give personal information to get to the order form. By now you’ve drilled down to the fifth web page. To see a price list without making an order, you have to read the Terms and Conditions.
Ignore positive reviews where the reviewer gets money! -1 if the review includes a link to buy the product. -1 if you can’t find a review by a trustworthy independent source such as CNET or Amazon. -1 if the review is inside the vendor’s website, particularly if it includes a photograph of the reviewer that is clipart.
Force Factor: -1. “Review” site HowLifeWorks states:
“… a muscle builder known as VolcaNO, is already well on its way to becoming one of GNC’s top grossing products in a matter of months. The success is borderline inexplicable so we decided to ask Force Factor’s Chief Marketing Officer his secret.
“It’s not complicated,” said the CMO. …”
There’s no way to know whether VolcaNO is really a top-grossing product. Now a quick glance gives the impression that some GNC executive is talking here. But no, it’s Force Factor’s own shill. This review includes a link to Force Factor. That’ll cost ya! Automatic -1.
- I also see endorsements on Force Factor’s website by people with no last names.
- Amazon actually has positive customer reviews of VolcaNO, but they’re coupled with complaints about Force Factor’s deceptive marketing.
-1 if customers say the product is much worse than they were led to expect. +1 if the product is a fair value.
Force Factor: 0. I have reservations about body-building supplements; but I can’t say whether they’re any use, nor how VolcaNO compares. Most Amazon reviewers seem to like it.
-1 for prices that are two times or more the price of an identical or comparable product from Amazon or another conventional retail source. Automatic -1 for the free-trial scam. Automatic -1 when the advertised price turns out to be the per-unit price when you buy a large number of units.
Force Factor: -1. You pay $69.99 plus shipping every month your subscription continues. They don’t say how many capsules you get; but looking closely at the picture of the bottle I see it’s 120. Amazon offers a 120-capsule bottle of VolcaNO for $31.98. And you don’t have to dodge the free-trial scam.
-1 if the vendor charges you for products and services you didn’t order or fees you weren’t notified about. For example, the LUX HD450 phone lens scammers are notorious for shipping five sets of lenses regardless of how many you order, and slapping on an expensive warranty to boot.
Force Factor: -1. I’ve found many complaints about unauthorized charges stemming from the free-trial scam. For example, from pissedconsumer.com,
DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR CREDIT CARD NUMBER.I could not get my money back.
Their ‘Terms and Conditions’ is a trap for unsuspected consumers. I did not like the product, but they keep sending me more and charging my credit card.
It is very aggressive and unethical marketing practice. Stay away from companies like this. For Canadians it is very difficult to take American company to court.
My bank advised me to read ‘Terms and Conditions’ carefully next time.The product itself made me sick.
Force Factor states in small print on the order form that accepting the free sample will trigger a subscription. Many scammers bury this information in T&C legalese. Nevertheless, many customers feel that they were deceived. And it looks to me like Force Factor intends to deceive.
My total score for Force Factor; -6. Even if you think VolcaNO is a good product, you can get it for less than half the price at Amazon, with no subscriptions or other dirty tricks.
Consumer Reports warns that liver damage due to supplements is on the rise. Body-building and weight-loss supplements are responsible for half the cases of supplement-caused liver damage.
Most of the supplements contained multiple ingredients, so the researchers weren’t always able to pinpoint the harmful substance. In addition, dietary supplements are sometimes illegally spiked with prescription drugs or other ingredients that aren’t included on the label, making it even harder to identify the culprit, says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser.