Sure-cures for medical problems, whether chronic or
terminal, drain millions of dollars from consumers’ wallets each year. They
also keep thousands of consumers from seeking evidence-based remedies for
treatable medical conditions.
TV infomercials, unsolicited emails and magazines, internet,
newspaper and radio advertisements often make fabulous claims, use
official-sounding titles and showcase testimonials from enthusiastic customers.
Today’s snake oil sellers try to convince you they have
discovered new solutions to age-old problems. They use national advertising
campaigns to deceptively sell “miracles” they cannot produce – potions and
products for health, beauty, vitality and happiness.
Spotting a scam
Take caution if looking to buy a health-related product that
is being promoted by one of the following sales pitches:
promoter use testimonials that sound too good to be true?
ad promise “a quick and easy cure?”
promoter use key words such as “miraculous,” “exclusive,” “secret,” or
product said to contain mysterious and exotic ingredients from far-away places?
product advertised as available from only one source requiring payment in
product advertised as effective for a wide range of ailments or for undiagnosed
ad include an endorsement from a celebrity without any expertise?
promoter suggest that doctors or the government are conspiring to keep an
effective cure out of your hands?
When evaluating an offer, do not rely on promises of a
“money-back guarantee.” Be aware that many fly-by-night operators will never be
there to respond to a refund request.
Be wary of “free” trial offers. The trial period will often
be far too short for you to determine whether the product makes a difference,
and the promoter will probably stick you with an excessive, nonrefundable
charge for shipping and handling. It may be difficult to cancel your trial, and
you may even be responsible for additional “refill” shipments of the product if
you do not, or cannot, cancel on time. Also beware of negative option which is
where the company continues to send you the product and you are responsible to
pay until you contact the company to terminate the order.
Protect your health and your pocketbook by taking the
trust your health to a salesperson, ad or TV infomercial. Take the time to find
a credentialed primary health care provider that you can trust to give you
sound medical advice.
believe claims that a “secret” or “miracle drug” will work wonders on a wide
variety of ailments.
buy medical devices, bracelets or other products without first consulting your
doctor or other appropriate health professional.
skeptical of claims of immediate, dramatic weight loss or recaptured youth or
buy any product based on the seller’s claim that the purchase will be covered
by Medicare or other insurance.
Always discuss your medical problems with your primary
health care provider. If you cannot get the information or help you need, you
should try to find a new provider before looking to advertisements for cures.
Why health fraud schemes work
Health fraud, or quackery, is a practice that sells false
hope. It preys on persons who are suffering from diseases that may have no
complete medical cures, such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and certain
forms of cancer.
Wishful thinkers who want shortcuts to weight loss or
improvements to personal appearance are also vulnerable to this form of fraud.
Medical quacks profit when they convince people that their products are an easy
path to better health and personal attractiveness.
At best, “miracle cures” are a financial rip off. At worst,
quackery endangers health and postpones relief by diverting people from seeking
proper medical diagnoses and treatment of serious illnesses.
The bogus products themselves can even cause health
problems. Many of these products have been pulled from store shelves in recent
years because they were found to contain illegal drug ingredients that had not
been tested or approved by the federal Food & Drug Administration. These
drugs may not be effective or safe.
When you have a question about the value of a product you
have seen advertised, you should first take a healthy dose of skepticism and
then ask your primary health care provider.