The latest weight-loss craze has generated more than 140 complaints to the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau about a seller of acai berry capsules.
According to the latest BBB report, a company doing business as Nature’s Acai Berry has collected 147 complaints since Jan. 8, with 16 more complaints pending, said Kim States, president and CEO of the Southern Arizona BBB.
A weight-loss and health supplement sold through the company’s Web site, the product is derived from the berries of the acai (A-sigh-EE) palm.
The complaints have been filed by customers throughout the U.S. but are handled at the local BBB because the company lists Tucson as its headquarters, States said.
Nature’s Acai Berry’s local address – 5425 E. Broadway, Suite 282 – is a postal drop box at a UPS Store, which makes it difficult to tell if the business has a physical presence in southern Arizona, States said.
“They’re not very forthcoming with their information,” she said. “We seem to have tracked some association to companies in California and New York.”
Only two complaints relate to the nature of the product itself. Nature’s Acai Berry advertises a “14 day risk-free trial” that scores of consumers have found to be anything but risk-free, States said.
Of the 147 complaints, six were listed as resolved for a settlement percentage of 4.08. Based on the number of complaints and the low settlement percentage, the bureau gives the company its lowest rating of “F,” States said.
The majority of the complaints – 115 – concern issues related to billing (67), refunds (29), and sales practice (19).
Some complainants said that after the free trial ended, they were automatically sent more supplements without their consent, resulting in charges of up to $200, States said. Complainants also reported that they were automatically enrolled in additional memberships without their knowledge and that credit card statements and direct debits from bank accounts were made under various names, including Fit Factory, Cost Match, XM Labs and Nature’s Best Acai Berry.
Many complainants, including Tucson resident Jim Lombard, noted that the clock on the 14-day free trial apparently starts when the product is ordered but that customers don’t receive a shipment for days or even weeks after the order is placed.
In Lombard’s case, he had $79.76 automatically deducted from his bank account without his consent. States said the bureau did not receive a response from the company regarding Lombard’s complaint, so it was closed as unanswered, which was the case with more than 95 percent of the complaints about Nature’s Acai Berry.
The company has apparently attracted many customers through advertisements on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, she said.
“When people go to the links to the product, they see all of these logos from trusted news outlets that imply consent,” she said.
The stories and endorsements from those news outlets are for the purported benefits of the acai berry, but in no way endorse the company’s product, States said.
“For a while, there was even this great big picture of Oprah staring you in the face, though they have since pulled that off,” States said.
On the company’s Web site, a “Terms of Offer” page tells those dissatisfied with the product to return it to Amir and Sanchez Nutraceuticals in Torrance, Calif.
Repeated calls to Amir and Sanchez Nutraceuticals yielded no comment from company officials. One call was transferred from a customer service representative to a customer service supervisor who identified herself as “Wendy.” That call was disconnected during the reporter’s conversation. Another call was transferred from a representative to a supervisor to a floor manager who identified himself as “Bernard,” and who said someone from the company would make a return call with a statement. No return call or message was received.
“What you encountered is also what some of the consumers have referred to in their complaints, that they either can’t get through to cancel, or that they do get through but that they continue to be billed for the product,” States said.
A local nutritionist said that benefits of complex sugars, including those of acai berries, are real, but noted that many acai supplements are heavily augmented with other ingredients, which quite often include large amounts of caffeine.
“Complex sugars are wonderful, but instead of getting something from the other side of the Earth, I would encourage people to look at local sources,” said Dr. Michael Stone. “Aloe vera, for example, is very similar to acai berry, though not exact, and its available right here.”
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said his office has received complaints from people who signed up for free or nearly free supplements of acai berries and other products, only to be charged later for additional monthly shipments at full price.
“The Internet opens up many opportunities to deceive consumers who invest their money and their trust in a company,” Goddard said in a statement.
Fraud victims can contact the attorney general’s Consumer Information and Complaint Division at 800-352-8431.
To file a complaint or get information from the Southern Arizona BBB on a company, call 888-5353 or visit tucson.bbb.org.
Most complained about
Here are the 10 “Most Complained About Industries” and 10 “Most Complained about Companies” to the Southern Arizona Better Business Bureau from Jan. 1-April 23.
Inclusion on this list does not necessarily mean a company is doing bad business, as evidenced by the assigned letter grades, States said.
“We have to look at the number of complaints relative to the volume of business they’re doing and how are they responding to those complaints,” she said. “If a company has a settlement percentage rating that’s high, that can actually be a positive, because it’s showing that they’re resolving their complaints to the satisfaction of the consumer.”
10 Most Complained About Local Industries
Description Complaints Settlement%
Health & Medical Products 147 4.08
Auto Dealers-Used Cars 25 76
Computers Software & Services 25 88
Auto Repair & Service 21 76.19
Auto Dealers-New Cars 20 95
Television-Cable, CATV & Satellite 18 100
Furniture-Retail 15 93.33
Youth Organizations & Centers 14 50
Air Conditioning Contractors & Systems 13 76.92
Plumbing Contractors 13 61.54
10 Most Complained About Local Companies
Description Complaints Settlement% Grade
Nature’s Acai Berry 147 4.08 F
Intuit Inc. 20 100 A+
Southwest Youth Sports 14 50 F
Cox Communications 12 100 A+
tvdvdcollection.com 10 0 F
ALLTEL Communications, Inc. 9 100 A+
Cummings Plumbing Heating Cooling 7 57.14 D+
Sam Levitz Furniture Company, Inc. 7 100 A+
Blindsparts.com 6 66.67 F
Comcast of Arizona Inc. 6 100 A+
CashKrazy.com 6 0 NR*
ARS/Rescue Rooter 5 100 A-
BRAKEmax Car Care Centers 5 100 A-
ElectroGear.net 5 40 F
*Company has no rating (NR) because BBB has information indicating it is no longer in business.
Source: Southern Arizona Better Business Bureau
On the Web
Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona
Nature’s Acai Berry