Free is rarely free, and when the promise of weight loss is thrown into the mix, it pays to be berry careful.

Case in point? A nutritional supplement maker peddling so-called miracle products made from South American açaí berries are being forced to pay up $350,000 in refunds.

Central Coast Nutraceuticals, which offered a “free trial” to consumers the acceptance of which actually tied them into expensive monthly deliveries, was ordered by an Arizona court to give refunds to customers after deceptive marketing, WalletPop reports.

Several companies have claimed that the antioxidant-rich berries fights cancer and aging and promote weight loss. Consumers are buying the hype: Sales of açaí products were close to $15 million last year, up from $500,000 a year in previous years, according to the Better Business Bureau. Advertisements of the berry supplements, juices and teas have appeared on social networking sites like Facebook and used the Oprah Winfrey, Rachel Ray, WebMD (Stock Quote: WBMD), and AOL Health (Stock Quote: TWX) names in their advertisements, implying that high-profile folks have endorsed the products.

According to a warning to consumers from the Better Business Bureau earlier this year, customers who signed up for a free trial of the supplements were given two weeks to cancel deliveries before being shipped $85.90 worth of supplements each month from FX Supplements or $40 worth of supplements a month from Central Coast Nutraceuticals.

Central Coast will have to pay $1 million in civil penalties to the state of Arizona, $350,000 in consumer restitution and $25,000 to cover the state’s legal and investigative costs, according to the office of Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.

How to File a Complaint

If you were scammed by Central Coast, you’ll have to file a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office by Aug. 17 to be eligible for part of the settlement. For more information, call the Consumer Information and Complaints hotline at (800) 352-8431 or email

Related Stories:

Diet Pills Recalled on Reports of Liver Damage

Buyer Beware: Health Product Scams a New Appeal

Recall Watch: Zicam May Rob Sense of Smell

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at