By Michael R Williams, RD
Health is a major market, one that pulls in over $2.7 trillion annually. Of this, it is estimated that between 3–10 percent comes from health fraud scams. Health fraud scams are defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure diseases or other health conditions, but are not proven safe and effective for those uses.”
Unfortunately, we do not have to look too far to find bogus health products and scams. These scams are widespread in newspaper, radio and magazine ads, TV “infomercials” and all across the internet.
Most health fraud scams are targeted to vulnerable populations that are desperate for help, including people searching for last-minute miracle cures and low-cost treatments. The prime targets are typically older adults, as the FDA notes that most victims are 65 years and older. Common conditions for these scams include treatments for cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, anti-aging and weight loss products.
The best step to prevent becoming a victim is to be aware of how these scams operate. Below are some tips to identifying health fraud scams.
Miracle Cures: Claims such as “miracle cure,” “secret ingredient,” and “wonder breakthrough” are some of the most notorious in health fraud scams. These miracle cures are often anything but miracles or cures, as they are not likely tested or proven to work. The FDA emphasizes that “if a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by health professionals — not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.” These “miracle cure” scams are often followed by outrageous claims such as secret ancient techniques rediscovered or conspiracy theories of the medical industry to silence them.
Conspiracy Theories: Often health scams will offer some explanation as to why their product is not part of mainstream medical treatments. These range from statements that the pharmaceutical industry and the government secretly bans cures to rediscoveries of ancient medicines not accepted by medical science. The question to ask is, “Why would large numbers of healthcare workers try to actively block treatments that could save millions of lives, many whom could be their family or friends?” In reality, these conspiracy theories are used to distract consumers from the absence of scientific evidence behind a product.
Personal Testimonies: The personal testimony is one of the most common characteristics of fraudulent health products. These “success stories” are often exaggerated claims such as “this product cured my diabetes” or “I lost 30 pounds in 30 days.” There is no way to prove that these claims are real versus made up. Therefore, they should not substitute for real scientific evidence.
Before trying out or purchasing any miracle cures remember the following:
When something looks too good to be true – it very like is.
Whenever starting a new medicine, supplements or treatment, seek the advice of a qualified health care professional.
Many TV and magazine “doctors” that endorse a product may just be actors or models. Research their credentials or even better — ask your own healthcare practitioner about a product.
Use common sense when it comes to your health.
For informative videos and further information check out the Health Care Fraud page of the Federal Drug Administration at www.fda.gov/healthfraud.