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Warning issued about company selling online health products

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The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is warning consumers about Healthy Online Services, a company which sells weight loss supplements and other health products over the Internet.

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The company has an F rating with the BBB due to a pattern of complaints involving billing and customer service issues. The BBB has received over 300 customer complaints against the company since the beginning of this year.

Complaints filed through the BBB state customers are suddenly being billed months after signing up online for a free 14-day trial. Customers who have signed up to receive products at various Web sites operated by the company state that after paying shipping and handling, they were supposed to get their products and have the option of continuing on with their agreement after the trial period ended - incurring monthly charges - or canceling the agreement during the free trial period.

Many complainants allege Healthy Online Services is billing them even though they contacted the company during the trial period to cancel their agreement, and adding a $50 late charge despite the fact they had received no prior billings or contact from the company in the months since they opted out of the agreement. These customers also say the company is threatening to turn their accounts over to a collection agency. Some customers state they're being billed for products they ordered and paid shipping and handling on, but never received.

Other customers who state they cancelled their agreement during their trial period say in their complaints they were unaware they had to return unused products and are now being billed by the company for failing to do so.

The company has provided responses to some customer complaints, others are still pending. They have generally responded by cancelling customer accounts and zeroing out their balances.

For consumers considering buying health products online, the BBB advises the following:

--Before taking any weight-loss supplement or trying a new health product, be sure to consult a health care professional. Some Web sites offering products of this nature make unrealistic claims or give advice which could be damaging to your health. Make sure you know what you're buying and that the claims marketers are making have basis in fact and won't jeopardize your health.

--Check out the seller first. You can do so at www.bbb.org. When you're researching companies, don't just enter their name. You can also do advanced searches using phone numbers and Web addresses. Remember, the more fantastic the health claim, the greater the odds customers somewhere have been disappointed by the product.

--Make sure you understand all the terms of any offer you receive. Many times important information (such as future billings which will commence if you fail to cancel within a given timeframe) is buried deep in the fine print, or else you have to click through multiple links to gather all the information you need to evaluate the offer. If you have concerns about an offer you receive, trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, take a step back and do some more investigating.

--Finally, consumers shopping online should look for the BBB seal on Web sites and click on the seal to confirm its legitimacy.

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is a private, non-profit organization providing services to consumers and businesses. The focus of the Bureau's activity is to promote an ethical marketplace by encouraging honest advertising and selling practices, and offering dispute resolution. For more information on the Better Business Bureau, visit the Bureau's Web site at www.thefirstbbb.org or call 651-699-1111, toll-free 800-646-6222.

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