Too Good to Be True?: Preventing Health Fraud and Scams


by Rich O’Boyle, Publisher
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Anti-aging and alternative health products are extremely popular among people, especially senior citizens. One in ten seniors uses some type of dietary supplement on a daily basis, such as ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, glucosamine, melatonin, and other herbal and botanical preparations. Some of these supplements may indeed have beneficial medical uses, but may also increase risks for adverse reactions.

Worse, billions of consumer dollars are wasted on unproven, fraudulently marketed, and sometimes useless health care products and treatments. In addition to wasting their money, consumers with serious medical problems may be wasting valuable time before they seek proper treatment. Some products may cause serious harm and endanger lives. The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have identified products whose marketing and advertising is fraudulent or misleading, including products whose ingredients are substandard or useless.

Fortunately, there are ways to tell which health-related claims are likely to be legitimate. This article will help you spot false and unsubstantiated claims. It describes some typical areas where fraud flourishes and suggests how you can protect yourself.

How to Spot False Claims

Remember the first rule of thumb for evaluating health claims: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, learn to recognize the typical phrases and marketing techniques used to deceive consumers:
 - The product is advertised as a quick and effective cure-all for a wide range of ailments or for an undiagnosed pain;
 - The promoters use key words, such as scientific breakthrough, miraculous cure, exclusive product, secret ingredient or ancient remedy;
 - The promoter claims the medical profession or research scientists have conspired to suppress the product;
 - The advertisement includes undocumented case histories claiming amazing results;
 - The product is advertised as available from only one source, and payment in advance is required. 

In addition, health care clinics that require patients to travel away from home to receive treatment may be suspect. While many clinics offer effective treatments, some prescribe untested, unapproved, ineffective, and possibly dangerous "cures." Moreover, physicians who work in such clinics may be unlicensed or lack appropriate specialization. For these reasons, you should contact state or local health authorities where the clinic is located before you arrange to go.

Finally, don't rely on promises of a "money-back guarantee." Be aware that many fly-by-night operators will not be around to respond to a refund request.

Related Articles

 - Breakthrough? Understanding the Drug Development and Approval Process http://www.ec-online.net/Knowledge/Articles/drugs.html
 - Ginkgo Biloba and Herbal Supplements http://www.ec-online.net/Knowledge/articles/ginko.html
 - ElderCare Online’s publisher, Prism Innovations, Inc. offers a comprehensive Learning Resource Guide on “Preventing Frauds and Scams” that addresses health fraud as well as Medicare, Medicaid and health services fraud. You can purchase the report in our online store...

Online Resources

 - U.S. Food and Drug Administration
 - National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine

 - About.com’s Herbs for Health Channel
 - General Accounting Office Report on Health Products for Seniors

Resources for Assessing Health Information on the Internet

 - Health on the Net Foundation
 - Hi-Ethics (Health on the Internet Ethics)
 - Senior-Net’s Evaluating Online Healthcare Information

Available from ElderCare Online™             www.ec-online.net             2001 Prism Innovations, Inc.