Avoiding Medicine and Health Remedy Scams
Schemes advertising dubious pills, potions, diets and other supposed treatments for a wide variety of illnesses common in older people have been promoted by fraudulent salesmen for centuries. Nowadays, instead of listening to sales pitches for home remedies at the county fair from snake oil salesmen, vulnerable older adults are bombarded by ads for these questionable solutions in newspapers, magazines, TV, the internet, and even cell phone text messages.
Incredible advances have been made in recent years in understanding the causes, cures and treatments of some of humankind’s most devastating illnesses. Unfortunately, the potential for health care fraud has also increased, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By educating ourselves about what kind of fraudulent remedies are out there, understanding their risks, recognizing warning signs and exploring health care options in our state and community, we can be sure that we have the information we need to receive the best health care available.
Common fraudulent remedies to watch for
There’s a huge assortment of unproven “miracle cure” treatments out there advertised to manage and possibly cure painful symptoms of chronic illnesses quickly and easily. Unfortunately, many of these fraudulent products specifically target older adults. Older people are more likely to have health concerns they struggle to cope with, on top of fears of the effects of aging. Scammers also count on older adults having money to spend on their health, and a lack of internet savviness that will prevent them from doing research or seeing consumer alerts for bad products.
Common fraudulent “miracle cures” include:
- Consuming exotic foods or taking remedies meant for pets to treat cancer
- Weight loss programs that don’t use diet or exercise
- Unproven diet supplements, herbs, vitamins or minerals that don’t have FDA approval
- Programs that claim to reverse diabetes naturally using green juice fasting and live food nutrition and other supposedly natural treatments
- Creams and supplements that promise to reverse all natural signs of aging
- Detox therapies that claim to cleanse illness from the body
What are the risks of fraudulent remedies?
Ads promoting fraudulent treatments appear frequently in magazines, newspapers and on alternative health websites. Sometimes, scammers reach out directly through text messages and e-mail, and are able to specifically target people with certain illnesses, like cancer or memory loss. Even more frightening, sometimes well-meaning friends and relatives can push fake cures on older loved ones. In recent years, the Federal Trade Commission has had to issue warnings against several health-based Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) companies selling unvalidated remedies, particularly to “cure” COVID-19. MLMs typically use everyday people in the community to push products to friends and family. Unfortunately, older adults are very susceptible to these schemes because the recommendation is coming from someone they love and trust.
Many of these products are harmless, but ineffective. Others, however, may cause serious side effects or negatively interact with prescription medications or other supplements.
Recognizing health scams
"If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” was a catchphrase used by the Better Business Bureau to alert the public to dubious business practices. This can often be a good phrase to keep in mind when we are looking for information about treatments for a particular illness. Other signs that can often indicate a product may not live up to its advertising include:
- Promises to help with “Losing weight without diet or exercise”
- Language that promises the product is a quick, effective cure-all for a variety of different illnesses or diseases, especially if it is a disease where there currently is no effective cure.
- Claims that a product is an ancient remedy with a “secret ingredient” that will produce a “miraculous cure.”
- Assurances of a “no risk money back” guarantee if you are not completely satisﬁed with the product.
- No reputable scientiﬁc studies or clinical trials of the product.
- No company name, address, phone number or other identifying information provided by the website promoting the product.
Protecting ourselves and others from fraud
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends talking to a doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional if we have concerns about health products that we or a loved one is using. We can contact the FDA at 1-888-463-6332 with questions or concerns, or report problems with medical or health products to the FDA via the internet or phone at 1-800-332-1088. We can also learn more about health fraud at www.fdagov/heaithfraud.