GREENSBORO, N.C. -- For months, Lichelle Yates, with the Better Business Bureau, has received complaints about companies that sell products promising clear skin, but aren't clear on how they'll charge you.
"There is always a string attached," Yates said.
The BBB says it has received more than 400 complaints since October about four skincare companies, said to be based in Greensboro. Through research, the BBB has given Radiant Revive, Instant Elixir, Instantly Vivid and Purely Organic an "F" rating. They all sell similar skin products.
"I saw the ad via Facebook and the ad was stating that this product was seen on Shark Tank," said Cheryl Jackson, of Kernersville. "I noticed that there were some charges to our credit card." That's when Jackson reached out to the BBB.
When ordering the products online, the companies promise a free trial if you pay less than $5 for shipping. But hidden at the bottom of the page, under other ads, is a single line saying "By submitting, you have consent to having read and agreed to our Terms & Conditions and after your 14 day trial period has expired, being enrolled in our membership program."
Yates calls this the "negative option" and says the way these four companies bury that agreement isn't transparent.
"I mean these consumers don't know what they're signing up for," Yates said. "Depending on when you catch on, you will be charged anywhere between $90 all the way up to $500 range."
All these companies have Greensboro addresses, but they lead you to different PO boxes at post offices around town.
"We have not been able to track down the owners," Yates said. "We've tried Secretary of State, they won't talk to us."
As for some of the victims Yates has talked to, some can't afford to be charged this amount of money.
"A lot of them are older," she said. "And a lot of them say they're on a fixed income, they're on Social Security, they're on disability."
Yates says the payments back from these companies are "hit or miss," with some reimbursing the full amount, and others only offering discounts for people who want their money back.
While the BBB hasn't been able to identify the owners of these companies, it does believe they are connected. On March 13, all four businesses sent identical responses to complaints on the BBB's website. They all included a misplaced comma in the second-to-last sentence.
“We apologize for your troubles. We provide the terms and conditions to our customers throughout the checkout process as well as product pages to read and agree to if they wish to continue with their order. Also, our number can be found directly on our bottles, as well as on our website. We do this to avoid misplacement. Again, we apologize for any misunderstanding you had with our offer, and at this time you have been fully refunded ,and we will be reaching out to you shortly to ensure satisfaction because we want all our customers to be happy. We hope you will continue to use our products and see the amazing results they can provide.”