Bamboo products and investments may not be what they seem to be: Internet Scambusters #700
The environmental attraction of products made from fast-growing and renewable bamboo fibers is driving increasing demand for fabrics made from the plant.
But all may not be as it seems -- if the fibers have been chemically processed into rayon.
Nor are some supposed investments in bamboo plantations all they appear to be, as we report in this week's issue.
Let's get started...
Don't Be Bamboozled by These Bamboo Claims
Bamboo has been hailed as one of the great environmental wonder products of modern times.
It's claimed to be sustainable -- easy and fast to grow. And it can also be processed into a variety of practical products from wood flooring to bed sheets.
It's also fairly expensive, perhaps because of its environmental credentials. And that, inevitably, has led to the misleading use of the word "bamboo" on product labels.
If they're not out-and-out scams, those labels certainly can't always be relied on to tell the whole truth.
For example, four leading retailers were recently barred from mislabeling textiles as being "bamboo" when they were really made of rayon.
The deception, however, was not all that it seemed either, because the rayon used in these products actually did come from bamboo -- but it was chemically processed out of all recognition first.
Chemical processing not only changes the structure of the products but also moves them out of the realm of environmental worthiness.
"They are made using toxic chemicals in a process that releases pollutants into the air," the Federal Trade Commission explains.
According to one eco-friendly website, more than a dozen toxic solvents are used in the conversion process.
The retailers were required to pay civil penalties amounting to more than $1.3 million after they allegedly continued with the mislabeling despite being warned about it several years ago.
Jessica Rich, director of the U.S. Bureau of Consumer Protection, said it was important for consumers to know that "textiles marketed as environmentally friendly alternatives may not be as 'green' as they were led to believe."
The FTC has issued guidance to manufacturers and retailers on how to correctly label and advertise textiles that use rayon made from bamboo, with the added caution, which we should all be aware of, that it's highly unlikely that stores are ever actually selling true bamboo fiber fabrics.
Unless a product is made directly with bamboo fiber -- often called "mechanically processed bamboo" -- it can't be called bamboo on a label. It's okay, though, to use the term "rayon made from bamboo."
Anyone claiming their product is actually made directly from fiber needs to have scientific evidence of the process. Relying on manufacturers' claims is not regarded as proof.
The same standard applies to other claims about fabrics made from this rayon, such as suggestions it retains bamboo's antimicrobial properties.
This rayon seemingly carries no trace of the original bamboo constituents and there's no evidence that it retains any antimicrobial properties
For now, the mislabeling issue seems mainly to relate to fabrics and there's an easy way for consumers to spot a potential deception: If you're buying something that claims to be made from bamboo and it's soft and silky, then it's not bamboo.
Products made directly from bamboo fiber are relatively coarse.
However, that's not the end of the story. The environmental attractions of the plant mean that as its popularity grows producers will eventually struggle to keep up with demand and other materials may be substituted.
So, look out for all types of dubious bamboo products, especially those that claim to be a "bamboo blend." Check the labeling carefully for information on just how much bamboo fiber the product actually contains and whether it has been chemically treated in any way.
Mislabeled fabrics are not the only way you can be caught out by the allure of bamboo either.
It's seemingly such a wonder product that it's also a source of investment scams.
Over the past few years, there've been several schemes claiming to offer mouthwatering returns such as 25% a year to people prepared to invest in bamboo plantations.
Most of these supposed deals come via cold-calling telesales operators and they are usually suitably vague about issues such as where the plantations are located or how the investment is structured.
They just seek an upfront "investment" of between $1,000 and $10,000, which they promise will grow faster than the bamboo itself.
It doesn't. There's no evidence that bamboo can produce such high returns. And since there are considerably more than 1,000 varieties of the plant, you would really have to be an expert to be able to establish whether any investment in bamboo was worthwhile.
As always, you should seek advice from a trusted financial advisor about any significant investments you're considering.
So whether you're offered silky-soft bamboo that's really rayon or an enticing investment plantation plan that will never take root, just watch out. Don't be bamboozled!
Alert of the Week
Telesales scammers are also currently doing the rounds claiming they can save people more than $100 a month on their medical insurance.
In the latest example, the scammer claims to be from one of the nation's biggest insurers, Humana, and specifically targets Medicare users.
Most likely, the crooks are after confidential personal information, so if you receive a call like this, don't provide that information.
It's almost certainly a scam but if you think it might be genuine, find the number of the insurance company independently and phone them to check.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.