Consumer Protection
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How to Protect Yourself: Infomercials
Source: Florida Attorney General's Office

Tune in to cable and independent TV stations late at night. They look like TV shows. They sound like TV shows. They often feature celebrities, but they aren't regular TV shows. Infomercials are simply a new type of TV commercial.

They look real because they copy the format of TV entertainment shows. Because these shows look and sound like real shows -- usually featuring guests, a regular host and a studio audience -- many people believe that they are legitimate, unbiased shows. In reality, they are simply paid advertisements featuring compensated actors endorsing products or services.

You can spot an infomercial by remembering these points:

  • Look for commercials during the show promoting the same product discussed in the show. Infomercials often stage commercial breaks just like other shows -- except that the commercials are really jusy a part of the show. For example, if the program is about methods to disguise hair loss, the commercial may feature a product that would solve the hair loss problem (like a black dye hair product you can use to spray paint your head).
  • Infomercials often feature a toll free number or ordering information on the screen during the show. Remember, they are trying to sell a product. They want to make sure that you know how to order the product.
  • FCC rules require a sponsor of a paid program to disclose who is paying for the program at either the beginning or end of the infomercial. Look for the announcement that the show is a paid commercial broadcast (or other similar language).
  • Infomercials sell a wide variety of products. Paid infomercials can be used to sell everything from health and household products to "get rich quick" schemes.
  • Infomercials often feature endorsements by celebrities who were once popular. The sponsors want you to watch the show because you recognize the long-forgotten stars.
  • Be wary of programs that endorse one product as better than all others. Legitimate shows typically evaluate and discuss products in an impartial manner. But an impartial show never displays ordering information for the product. That's an infomercial!
  • Order by credit card for extra protection. When you order by credit card, you can dispute billing errors and product quality with a timely written complaint to your credit card company.
  • The product being marketed on the infomercial may be a very good product, but understand that the show promoting it is nothing more than an elaborately staged commercial.