Consumers wanting whiter teeth should be wary of online ads that tout products promising brighter smiles.
That's the latest warning from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which says it has received a "recent onslaught of complaints" from consumers who believed theyd signed up for free trials of teeth whitening products and were later billed for items and services they didn't want or authorize.
ConsumerAffairs.com has received similar complaints about these teeth whitening ad, which often appear on popular online news sites like FoxNews.com, CNN.com, and ABCNews.com.
The ubiquitous ads usually link consumers to phony blogs and fake news sites designed to look like impartial third-party endorsements of the products, according to the BBB.
The phony endorsements then direct consumers to a main Web site that claims the product sold is "As seen on" ABC, Forbes.com, CBS News, CNN, and USA Today -- and even includes the logos of these news outlets.
"From the complaints we've received, it's obvious that many consumers are unfortunately letting their trust in respected news outlets influence their level of trust in the products being advertised on their Web sites," said Steve Cox, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "While it may be true that advertisements for the teeth whiteners were placed on major news Web sites, reporters for USA Today or CNN did not write stories about the efficacy of the specific products being sold."
Web sites for these teeth whitening products claim to offer a no-risk, money back guarantees, and free trials of the product. To receive the products, consumers must provide a credit or debit card number to cover shipping and handling.
But some consumers say the companies billed them before their trial periods ended -- and continued to charge them after they cancelled their orders. Other consumers have discovered mystery charges for companies and services they didn't know were included when they signed up for their "free" trials.
Consider what happened to Christopher S. of East Setauket, New York, who responded to an advertisement for teeth whitening products on MSNBC.com. He told ConsumerAffairs.com that a company called Clean Whites charged him nearly $50 during his "free" trial period.
"I ordered the free trial and thought that it was fairly normal," he told us. "A day later, I received a call from a customer service (representative) to confirm my order. The phone was extremely hard to hear and she confirmed my order of the FREE trial. All I had to do was pay a $5.95 shipping and handling fee."
The company, however, wound up billing Christopher eight times that amount.
"A day after that, I was charged $49.95 to my (credit) card," he said. "Upon seeing this charge, I called the company only to stay on hold with them for about 30 minutes (and) only to get no response. I have been unable to get anyone on the phone to cancel my order, and (I) never authorized any $49.95 charge. This is the biggest scam I have ever come across."
A Texas consumer told us Clean Whites duped her, too.
"I ordered a 14-day risk-free trial of a teeth whitening system for $99," said Sharon R. of Aledo, Texas. "I was never told I would automatically be scheduled to receive a monthly shipment in their 'membership' for $79.95 + $5.95 shipping."
"This is a scam and they do not answer the phone," she added. "I cannot cancel their phony membership or my Visa on their Web site as it repeats the offer to get a free trial. I do not want my credit card charged again and I want my name, address, and Visa abated from their system forever. This is a fraud."
Sharon claimed she was allegedly taken by another company selling teeth whitening products. That company, she said, is called Purely White LLC.
"I ordered a teeth whitening 'pen' over the Internet that was to cost only $4.95 plus shipping and handling," she said. "Today I received an e-mail (that I couldn't reply to) that I was charged $94.90 + 89.90 by Purely White, plus $79.95 and $83.90 for Health Cleanse, neither of which I ever ordered. None of these charges were made known to me."
"I want these charges abated, but cannot get through to them," Sharon said, adding her Visa company told her it has received other complaints about this company's billing tactics.
A New York consumer who responded to a trial offer for teeth whitening products from an outfit called Dazzle White told us the company later made several unauthorized withdrawals from his bank account.
"While on my computer I observed a trial offer from Dazzle White for teeth whitener for $4.95 only for shipping and handling," said Dennis B. of Riverhead, New York. "I ordered the product, without thinking, and received numerous phone calls thereafter soliciting me for more products, which I emphatically refused.
"On Wednesday September 16, 2009, I received a package via USPS, which contained three silver cartridges from Dazzle White. I immediately checked my bank accounts and found several unauthorized withdrawals." Those unauthorized withdrawals -- to various companies -- totaled more than $170.
Dennis immediately contacted his bank, which tried to help him track down the companies that made those withdrawals.
"The bank officer and I called the numerous toll free phone numbers and spoke to several 'customer care' agents," Dennis said. "With each call the names changed -- both of the companies and representatives. The officer and I both questioned the withdrawals and received very vague information."
Dennis, however, did learn that one unauthorized withdrawal of $8.95 gave him unlimited access to a "weight loss counselor."
"From teeth whitening to weight loss what a deal," Dennis said. "Dazzle White and the people behind it, in my opinion, are operating a criminal enterprise, which is bilking unsuspecting individuals throughout North America. I was scammed out of $173 illegally withdrawn from my checking account. If I didn't view my checking account I wonder how many other thieves would help themselves to my money."
The BBB said it has received complaints about Dazzle White and other companies selling teeth whitening products, including:
White Smile, Teeth Smile and Dazzle Smile:
The BBB serving Edmonton (Canada) has received 506 complaints in the last 12 months from consumers in 47 states, five Canadian provinces, and the United Kingdom about Dazzle White and these three other companies. Consumers say the companies billed them as much as $79 for their "free trials." They also told the BBB they were charged for several other services, including a weight loss program;
The BBB serving Denver has received 611 complaints from consumers in 46 states about this company. Consumer say the company charged them as much as $78 a month for a free trial. Other related companies include Ortho White and Bella Brite, which are mounting complaints as well, the BBB said. Agency officials have asked the three companies to add more disclosures to their Web sites about their free trial offers. The BBB has not yet received a response to these requests;
Advanced Wellness Research:
The BBB serving West Palm Beach, Florida, has started to receive complaints from consumers about this company's teeth whiteners, which are sold under the names of Max White, My Whitening, Gleaming White Smile and many others.
To protect yourself -- and your checkbook -- from getting taken by companies selling teeth whitening products online by, the BBB recommends:
Be wary of "third-party" endorsements for these products. Be cautious of any ad that links to a blog or Web site news articles. The blogs and articles were likely written by the company and are not endorsements from consumers or reporters;
Always read the fine print. Many Web sites offering free trials of teeth whitening products do not disclose the billing terms and conditions or do not have these details prominently displayed on their sites. Before giving the company any credit or debit card information, review the Web site and be aware that free trials typically result in repeated billings;
Find out if the company has any complaints on file with ConsumerAffairs.com, your state's attorney general's office, or the BBB. Consumer can file a complaint about any company that rips them off with their state's attorney general's office or the BBB;
Regularly check your bank account and credit card statements for any unauthorized charges. If you find any, immediately report them to your bank or credit card company.