USU Extension: Late Night TV Purchases

Wow, will that really clean my floors and make them look new again? Only five minutes a day and you will lose weight! How can you not want to try these products? Only $19.99, or 5 easy installments of $29.99.


Unlike typical commercials that aim to impress consumers with an alluring brand image, infomercials push for an immediate purchase. They may seem like a convenient way to shop from home, but think twice before dialing that number. While legitimate companies use infomercials to sell worthwhile products, scammers also tap this form of advertising to make deceptive pitches.

Previously relegated to late-night television, infomercials are now spilling over into regular evening programming and respected daytime fare.

Television is a very powerful way to advertise a product, and then have it endorsed by a celebrity and the product can become an instant hit– $200 billion in revenues in 2007.

Here are some tips to consider before taking the “plunge” of purchasing:

1. Know what you are getting–do your homework, not only to unearth the best deals, but to know whether you are getting a quality product. Consider the actual cost by doing the math on the number of payments plus shipping, etc. Can you get a better deal by buying locally? Have you seen it on store shelves, do you know someone who was happy with the same purchase? Check the advertiser’s online presence for crucial information that all reputable companies should display.

2. Guard your privacy and personal information– Use substitute credit card numbers, also known as “controlled payment” or “throwaway” numbers, which expire after one use. These alias numbers are linked to your regular card number, but you can specify a spending limit on them as well as an expiration date, beyond which charges to the account will be declined. Although the process varies slightly depending on the card, the principle is the same: Sign up at the credit card’s Web site, then receive a randomly generated substitute 16-digit number. Discover, Citibank, MBNA and Bank of America are some credit lenders that offer this service. For added peace of mind, opt for a Green Dot Card ( that’s not linked to your account and works everywhere MasterCard and Visa debit cards are accepted. It carries an activation fee of $9.95 and can be reloaded at numerous retailers such as CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens. Read a Web site’s privacy policy. It might tell you that the site sells customer data, which means your inbox could be stuffed with spam. As for security, when entering personal data, make sure you’re on a Web page that triggers a security icon such as a closed padlock on your browser, indicating a secure connection for transmitting sensitive information. You should also use a single dedicated credit card for all online transactions, which will minimize aggravation should you be a victim of identity theft. After you’ve completed your purchase, a receipt will often appear on your final screen. Rather than jotting down the purchase number, print the actual receipt for your records, should any discrepancies occur.

3. Check the return policy, shipping and handling, and all other possible terms related to needing to return the item.

4. Be skeptical of the “claims” or promotion tactics–words like “scientific breakthrough,” “miraculous cure,” “exclusive product,” “secret ingredient,” or “ancient remedy.” If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. For example, claims that a supplement allows you to eat all you want and lose weight effortlessly are false. Consider carefully statements that suggest the product can treat or cure diseases. Companies who want to make such claims must follow the FDA’s pre-market testing and review process required for new drugs. Also watch out for text that uses impressive-sounding terms, a weight-loss product described with words like “hunger stimulation point” and “thermogenesis.” Do you even know what that means?? One other important promotion tactic to consider is the “limited time” offer–Limited availability and advance payment requirements are a red flag. Resist pressure to decide on the spot about trying an untested product or treatment. Ask for more information and consult a knowledgeable doctor, pharmacists, or other health care professional. Promoters of legitimate products do not object to seeking additional information, and will have this offer more than once. You will be able to find it somewhere else, on your time frame.

5. Keep good records– Keep a record of everything. Write down the names and titles of people with whom you speak, the date and time you spoke with them, and what they told you. Always keep a record of the name, address and phone number of the company, goods you ordered, date of your purchase, amount you paid (including shipping and handling), and method of payment, and shipping/delivery time. Presenting these facts will help if you have a dispute with the merchant later, or want your bank to credit you for a shoddy product.
Remember, “buyer beware” is the best advice. While there are many good deals and products, there are many that are not, and there are many fraudulent practices that take our time and our money.

Resources for this article:

Market Watch—

Consumer Report

Infomercial Scams—

Federal Trade Commission


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