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BBB Tip of the Week: Be informed about infomercials

Sun., Dec. 11, 2011

Be informed about infomercials: Eliminate the hassle of annoying bra straps. Yes, this is the salutation in an email I received recently. (I must say, I’ve never felt hassled by my clothing, except for my pants: the waistline seems to be shrinking.) It got me to thinking about infomercials. Who watches them? Who believes them? Who pays to buy that stuff?

No problem: A friend of mine commented the other day that he’s noticed a pattern: Many infomercials attempt to create a problem then push their product as a breakthrough. Oh, pencils. They’re so difficult to use. But wait! We have the solution. Tired of trying to wash your feet in the shower? Now you can do it without bending down! (Are you kidding me?) I just don’t know what to do when my extra leftovers won’t fit into the container. (I guess it’s too simple to have two containers.)

Billions and billions: According to Wikipedia, the first infomercial for a blender aired around 1950. Now, more than $150 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on infomercial products. The financial crisis increased the number of infomercials, as struggling TV stations reduced syndication contracts. Infomercials can be sensational. Some products are questionable. Considerable Federal Trade Commission scrutiny has focused on diet/weight loss ad claims. Recently, the FTC sued several companies for publishing allegedly fabricated customer testimonials to support their infomercials. In addition, consumer protection agencies have successfully sued or criticized infomercial pitchmen.

See something on TV that you like?

• Check out the company at

• Investigate the product with Consumer Reports or another trusted organization.

• Try to verify the company’s claims.

Bottom line: Just as you would when purchasing products not seen on TV, do your homework before buying infomercial merchandise.

More info or report scams: Visit the BBB website at Call (509) 455-4200 or (800) 356-1007.

Holly Doering, BBB Editor

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