Man, life sure is hard. Difficult tasks like cutting vegetables, or ill-fitting straps on your shirt/hangar/car/bra/underwear, and trimming your nails are all daily trials and tribulations that make life a lot more of a strenuous journey than it has to be. Fortunately, television is willing to offer us access to reams of totally worthless products and services at exorbitant rates that are automatically charged to our credit cards every month and do precisely nothing at all to make our lives easier. You can easily recognize these products by the price, always ending in .99, or the outrageous promises and claims to make your life easier and better — for just a little bit — or a lot, of money. Here are 15 products pitched on TV that are total scammy ripoffs.
Who can forget the lovable late-night Miss Cleo infomercials? Her Jamaican accent was soothing yet cheerful, her bouncy tone promising all the supernatural solutions to your deepest problems. Except… Miss Cleo isn’t her name, she’s not Jamaican, and when you called you talked to some minimum wage employee who didn’t even give any psychic advice. Wait, what?
It turns out that Miss Cleo, whose real name Youree Dell Harris, was born in Los Angeles to American parents, had never even visited Jamaica, and was simply hired to be the face of the Psychic Friends Network (though she is a “real” psychic). The psychic network was successfully sued by a man named Stephen Schwartz for not actually giving any “psychic” advice. What could possibly make this whole scenario even more tawdry, sad, and artificial? How about the fact that even the “non-psychic” advice being given out was read from a plagiarized script?
The whole racket was eventually sued into the ground, broken up by the FTC, and Harris was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison. Oh, wait… That’s what happened in some magical fantasy world where lying to millions of people actually has consequences. In reality, the owners of the Psychic Friends Network got off paying a tiny fraction of what they made in fines, and “Miss Cleo” Harris continued to practice her art for several years afterward. Many years later, in what experts are calling a “Reverse Speidi”, Harris (who eventually came out as a lesbian) used her unearned fame to advocate for awareness of domestic violence, saying she is “committed to bringing an awareness to Domestic Emotional and Physical Abuse in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community and to begin the healing.”
We all know and love the fast-talking, prostitute-beating, bullshit-selling, general asshole Vince “The Shamwow Guy”. He bills the Shamwow as some sort of miracle product that uses space-age technology to transport your spilled liquids to far-distant black holes that suck harder than the hookers he beats. Unfortunately, anyone with the privilege to grow up with gullible Baby Boomer parents can tell you that these sorts of “towels” have been around for quite a while, and that they are absolutely worthless. True, they are super-absorbent, but the problem is they take several minutes to absorb the massive amounts of liquid they’re purported to hold. Which, for most practical situations, leaves you with a glorified flat sponge that becomes completely worthless and perpetually damp as soon as it contacts moisture. The Slap-Chop is pretty useful though.
Look at the kindly old man in this video. He just wants to help poor old people understand The Google and the Interweb Tubes. He will explain in a kindly, grandfatherly voice how to use such baffling and complicated computer interfaces such as eBay (seriously). But, in what should be a familiar scenario by now, the Video Professor promises a “Free Sample” that you can “Send back any time for a free refund” that comes with an inevitable hitch. When you order, say, the DVD that purports to explain “Windows”, you are sent the free DVD, as well as two more that are “on loan”. Unless you send these back within 10 days, you are charged a whopping $89.95 for a How-To that you could get for free with a simple Google search (that is, if you know how to use Google).
Not content to simply force seniors — possibly the slowest people on earth — to make a decision within 10 days, returning the DVDs is not so simple. Customers are required to call and get a “return authorization number” which is also known as a “We can barely justify our existence so we’re hoping to beat you into submission” number. And because it seems like these scams are always aspiring to sheer unbelievable levels of douchbaggery, the Video Professor will continue to send you DVDs (and charge you for them, of course) unless you make yet another call in to customer service and cancel this continuity program.
The hallmark of so many TV scams is the use of legitimate and legal marketing devices to break your kneecaps and steal your money in a fashion that feels very, very illegal. Scalp Med is just one of many, many, oh-so-depressingly many, examples. The tiny bottles of medication require somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 of shipping— and that’s simple regular shipping. Those familiar with online shopping know that $20 in shipping on say, eBay, will get your package shipped overnight on a gold-plated jet liner and you’ll get a complimentary priceless Ming vase as well. According to some quick calculation on the USPS website, at that price with regular shipping, you could ship a box full of bowling balls on a brontosaurus from NY to LA, and have plenty of room left over for weighty alliteration. Not content to simply overcharge for postage, many of these companies will charge exorbitant prices for return shipping—ensuring that you pay for your “free sample” one way or another.
Dual Action Cleanse
Snake-Oil salesmen have a longstanding fascination with the state of your poop pipe. From colonics that do no good, to green-tea enemas, you would think your butt was the source of everything good and bad in your life (for some people, it is). But in a market packed full of lies, liars, and potentially harmful “medicines”, Dual Action Cleanser really stands out as the outright worst.
You know you’re off to a bad start when the best thing about your product is the fact that it doesn’t work. Dual-Action Cleanse uses all the familiar tricks of the trade: exorbitant shipping, continuance plans that will charge you monthly and are impossible to cancel, etc… But on top of that, their founder goes on TV and talks with disturbing relish about his 4 year-old daughter’s bowel movements. Oh and just in case that video left you with a shred of faith in humanity and the contents of your stomach, after using Dual Action Cleanse for a long period of time one’s bowels become addicted to its effects and it becomes nearly impossible to shit without it. Just in case that wasn’t enough, Dual Action Cleanse also contains several powerful carcinogens.
Aside from sounding like an ill-conceived Swedish pop band, the Lazer Vacuum is infamous for being one of the most blatant scams around. While the other scams on this list will use tricks, subterfuge, and Kafkaesque customer service, the Lazer Vacuum will straight up kill you and take your money. That is, there are reams of customer complaints on the internet of Lazer Vacuum parent company Igia charging customers for the vacuum, then straight-up never delivering it. While this is low, reprehensible behavior… When compared to other TV scams, there’s something to admire in its sheer ballsiness.
Acai Berries, as their ads will remind you again and again, have been featured ad nauseum on TV as the latest “sit on your fat ass eating chips and lose weight” supplement. Not only is this fact (shockingly) untrue, Acai Berries, while highly nutritious, are no better for you than cranberries or pomegranates. The true scammy, scumminess of the whole campaign however, comes out in their online ads. Harkening back to 2002, they use legitimate-looking fake news sites to lend an air of objectivity and legitimacy to their bald-faced lies. Slick salesmen and half-truths are experiences anyone who’s bought a used car are familiar with. Co-opting the public trust of news organizations to sell a product, on the other hand, is something…well to be honest it’s something we see every day.
It’s a truism that, especially in America, you’ll never go broke selling sex. A lesser known truth is that you will never go broke selling to laziness and stupidity. Perhaps no product is guiltier of this than the infamous Ab-Belts. Using electrical charges to contract the abdominal muscles, these belts claim to give you 6-pack abs while you inhale Big Macs and Cheez-Its. As much as we would all like this to be true, there has never been, and never will be, a trick to losing weight besides diet, exercise, and methamphetamines.
Despite being repeatedly sued and slapped on the wrist by the FTC, the makers of these devices continue to adamantly insist that their product will give you the abs of your dreams, while quietly explaining that they actually will not in some hard-to-find fine print. In a startling and incredibly rare fit of sanity, Americans have largely rejected these products, leading them to expand into markets such as China, where consumer protection often amounts to little more than a prayer and some origami cranes.
The people who hawk cheap, tacky do-dads on TV are well known as a tasteless, patronizing, opportunistic bunch. It’s no surprise then that with the election of Barack Obama, countless commemorative plates and coins flooded the marketplace in an attempt to exploit what they viewed as a generally uneducated and non-savvy consumer base (i.e. black people). Imagine their shock then, when these same customers became outraged when the “Limited Edition Commemorative Coins” they bought were—and this is serious—simply cheap stickers stuck on to some quarters. The resulting shit storm led to multiple incriminations and wide-spread refunds. Unfortunately, and again this is true, in Barack Obama’s home town of Hyde Park, Chicago, they are still selling “Ba-Rocks”—small rocks with Barack Obama’s face engraved on them.
Cash 4 Gold
If there is a market force more powerful than stupidity, it is undoubtedly fear. Make your customers afraid for their lives, and you can sell them the Brooklyn Bridge and sand in the desert. Capitalizing on the recent economic turmoil, Cash 4 Gold is scaring people in to thinking that soon their job, their house, and their savings will suddenly vanish. Unwitting customers are thus motivated to send their priceless jewelry to this company in exchange for cold, hard cash.
This sounds relatively fine on the surface, until you realize that gold is currently at its highest price in, oh you know, forever. An ounce of gold currently is priced at over $1,200. So how much should Cash 4 Gold give its customers for a solid gold necklace? $500? $750? Try more like $24.99. Customers who complain profusely can get that bumped up to a whopping $75. Unsatisfied with that amount for the necklace you bought for several hundred dollars? Tough shit, because Cash 4 Gold will often “lose” customers shipments, recompensing them comparatively paltry amounts, and getting your gold sent back is a predictably futile miasma of customer service representatives who are literally paid to not do what you want.
Preying on women’s insecurities is a billion-dollar industry in America, but few women’s magazines or diet guides would stoop to the level of the Neckline Slimmer, a stupid-looking pogo stick that purports to eliminate customers’ double chins through repetitive nodding. Let’s all repeat a simple maxim that would save Americans billions of dollars if they bothered to listen: it is impossible to selectively eliminate fat on your body through anything but liposuction. Though on the other hand, it’s difficult to truly call this a “scam” because if anyone is stupid enough to think that A) this will eliminate neckfat, or B) if you have three chins this is going to make you substantially more attractive, they sort of deserve to be cheated out of three easy payments of $19.99.
Infamous for its annoying and repetitive ads, Head-On is probably the most reviled product that your grandma still inexplicably buys. Long since discredited as anything more than a placebo, Head-On is still stocked at major drug stores, and has even spawned several similarly worthless products to “ease” pain all over the body. But most of us already know this, being hopelessly jaded Internet youths. One lesser known fact (and this should begin sounding familiar by now) is that in addition to the totally worthless non-headache-curing wax that makes up most of the Head-On stick, there is also a known carcinogen.
Falling deeply in to debt is a crushing, demoralizing, and embarrassing process that happens to far too many Americans. Especially now that housing values — against which so many borrowed — have plummeted, many Americans are finding themselves in dire, indebted straits. Getting out of debt is a long, arduous process for which there are few shortcuts. As much as Americans view money as an increasingly colorful barrier to owning more stuff, there’s no way to rephrase the fact that owing the bank $250,000 means they have your testicles in a vise and are not afraid to twist. But according to all those optimistic debt consolidation companies on TV, simply by having them “talk” to the bank, your payments can be reduced by as much as 50%! Wowie zowie that seems really easy!
Unfortunately there is a little thing called reality, and it has a couple of rules about money, the first being that — as much as it might seem so — it is not created magically. The second being that people will break your kneecaps for it. These debt consolidation companies are pure, unadulterated scams that prey off people’s fears and blind optimism while promising no results whatsoever and always delivering on that promise. All these companies have to do is prey off of American’s greed, credulity, and hazy understanding of finance. To this end, they’ve even gone to such lengths as to establish “Christian Debt Consolidation Companies” in order to get people to trust them with money that much faster. These companies, which are about as “Christian” as Richard Dawkins’ left ass cheek, have a few crosses and quotes from scripture thrown about, but generally their Christianity is about a real as virgin births and flaming bushes.
Something approaching “modern” Homo Sapiens has existed for somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple hundred thousand years. Judging by the remains recovered archaeological digs, this early man had simple tools which he used to craft shelters, clothing, and presumably, blankets. In 2008, some wiseass came along and decided that he had improved on the last 100,000 years of human warming technology and introduced the Snuggie. This company then proceeded to try to scam the American public in to thinking that their blankets were useless, worthless rags that had not successfully kept the human population warm for thousands of millennia. Also, robes most certainly don’t exist and wearing them backward is just silly when you could buy a Snuggie. Then, of course, copycat products such as the “Dreamie” have come along to capitalize on American’s disbelief that they’ve been using such ineffective swaths of cloth and that they will only ever be warm again if they can get one pre-sewn into a convenient shape.
Seriously, blankets are not hard to use.
It is a testament to the male intellect that every single advertisement that promises to grow your penis is met with scoffs and several healthy “yeah rights”. Unfortunately this is immediately followed by every single man’s inner monologue whispering “yeah but what if…” If there’s one iron-clad rule in business, it’s that people are terrible and hilariously superficial and a penis-growing pill that actually worked would make someone a billionaire over night and give a good third of the male population a noticeable limp. Extenze has few, if any, penis-growing powers (it claims to aid erections in the same way as Viagra — claims which have not been verified). It does, however, have the power to embarrass and bankrupt.
Like so many TV scams, Extenze promises a “free trial” which they are more than happy to send as soon as you inadvertently sign up for a month-to-month “continuity” program that will auto charge your credit card. The charge accumulates every month until the customer calls and cancels it, which is predictably frustrating and impossible (according to uh….consumer reviews — definitely not personal experience). The true nut shot comes from the fact that, as some customers have reported, Extenze requires a doctor’s approval to cancel the subscription. This leaves many unwitting men in the uncomfortable position of admitting to their doctors that they were both scammed and have a small penis — which leads to predictably few cancellations. As an added bonus, like so many unverified Herbal Supplements, Extenze contains several worthless ingredients mixed in with several that are known carcinogens.