Health Fraud Scams: What You Need to Know

Health fraud scams are common and often have identifiable traits, according to the FDA

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides insights on health fraud scams and has offered tips to help you spot them.

Health fraud scams can be found pretty much everywhere — on television, in newspapers and magazines and, of course, online.

The FDA defines health fraud scams as products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure diseases or other medical conditions but are not proven safe and effective for those uses.

What's the Risk?

Health fraud scams waste money and time, and they can result in harm and even death.

Gary Coody, RPh, the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator, said “Using unproven treatments can delay getting a potentially life-saving diagnosis and medication that actually works. Also, fraudulent products sometimes contain hidden drug ingredients that can be harmful when unknowingly taken by consumers,” according to the FDA.

Coody went on to state, "Fraudulent products often make claims related to weight loss, sexual performance, memory loss and serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s."

What You Need to Look For

According to the FDA, the following types of products are considered red flags and should be avoided:

  • A product that cures it allIf a product claims to cure a variety of unrelated diseases, it is probably a scam.
  • A product with personal testimonials. Success stories from "real" people can indicate the product is a scam. An example of a testimonial is "It cured my diabetes.” These success stories are easily made up and are not usually based on scientific evidence.
  • A product that claims to be a quick fix. Conditions are typically not cured in a short time. Look for claims about losing a substantial amount of weight in a short period of time.
  • A product that claims to be “all natural.” Just because a product is natural does not mean it is entirely safe. In fact, some natural products may cause side effects or harm. The FDA has found hidden and high doses of prescription medications in many "all natural" products.
  • A product that claims to be a “miracle cure.” Alarm bells should ring any time you see claims like “new discovery" and “scientific breakthrough.” If there was a scientific breakthrough, then this news would be everywhere and would be presented to you by health professionals.
  • A product that presents conspiracy theories. Be wary about claimsstating the pharmacy companies or government are keeping this product a secret. These statements are not true. According to the FDA, these type of claims are used to distract consumers from identifying the product as a scam.

The Takeaway?

If the product seems too good to be true, chances are it is. If you are looking to buy a product with questionable claims, always ask your doctor or pharmacist before you buy or take the product.