Health scams pose a serious threat to consumers. In today’s episode of Scambook TV, Kevan identifies the two most common health scams: “miracle cure” products and fake online pharmacies. Aside from stealing your money or leaving you vulnerable to identity theft, health scams are particularly dangerous because they may cause consumers to delay the actual medical treatment they need.
Kevan tells us about some warning signs and red flags we can use to determine if a medical product or service might be fraudulent. For example, be cautious about using health care products you hear about in email spam or website banner ads. Finally, Kevan recommends educating yourself about your personal health and always talking to your primary care doctor before starting new treatments or buying pharmaceutical drugs.
Scammers are predatory. Like predators, they target the weak, the elderly and the sick. They attempt to scam us by exploiting our needs. That’s why health scams are particularly devious. Scammers know that people with an illness or medical problem are desperate for effective, affordable treatments, and they prey on this need.
But beyond simply taking your money or private information, health scammers may also give their victims false hope — as a result, victims may delay seeking the real treatment they need until it’s too late. The scammer’s products and services, if they actually arrive, may also interfere with the victim’s prescribed medications.
Let’s review the two leading health scams Kevan identifies in our video, miracle cure-all scams and fake online pharmacies.
Miracle Cure Scams: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear or See on TV
A miracle cure scam is basically what it sounds like. In the old days, shady salesmen would pull up their wagon to hawk snake-oil, tonics and potions. Now, they’ve swapped the wagon for websites, TV infomercials, books and all kinds of advertisements. Instead of selling snake-oil to balance your ill humors, they offer an assortment of pills, juices, powders and “lifestyle secrets” claiming to cure everything from diabetes to pancreatic cancer.
These “cure-all” sham products aren’t necessarily the same items you’ll find on the shelves of your local health foods store. The alternative/holistic medicines and herbal supplements for sale in stores are usually upfront about their questionable effectiveness. The majority of these commercial products state on the label that their ingredients haven’t been approved by the FDA and there’s no hard proof that they actually cure anything.
One could pose the question of whether these manufacturers are guilty of misleading advertisements, but they’re not true scammers like the modern snake-oil salesmen peddling miracle cures.
These scammers sell “secret techniques” to cure everything, using ancient healing energy, magnetic energy, spiritual jewelry, or secret blends of unspecified natural ingredients. Aside from offering false hope, they may also take your money and never deliver the product. Miracle cures also borrow the “faux free trial” technique that’s used so often by diet pills and weight loss drops. You may order a “free” trial but end up being charged for a full monthly subscription.
Although there are exceptions to every rule, here are some warning signs that a product might be a bogus miracle cure scam. Think twice before buying if you notice that the product:
1. Claims to heal everything, rather than treating a single symptom.
2. Is being sold by a guru or a celebrity doctor.
3. Is sold on a late-night infomercial, a website banner ad or if it arrives in your email inbox as spam.
And speaking of spam…
Watch Out for Fake Online Pharmacies
Fake online pharmacies are another prominent health scam. Unfortunately, prescription drugs are often very expensive, which may lead patients to seek cheaper ways to get their medication. Many turn to the Internet, where hundreds of websites advertise name-brand drugs for less.
However, many of these online pharmacies are fake, especially the sites you discover in spam email or on banner ads. The sites often install viruses or malware on your computer that steal your credit card numbers or other private information.
They may also accept your order for a medication and simply never send you the product, or they may send you a generic version of the drug (or a different drug entirely) without telling you. This can be outright dangerous because a mislabeled bottle may contain medicine you’re allergic to or ingredients that will interfere with other medical treatment.
Scambook advises consumers to use extreme caution on any pharmaceuticals website that:
1. Sells prescription drugs without requiring a prescription.
2. Offers medical products or devices from overseas suppliers.
3. Requests payment via Western Union, or requests excessive personal information such as your social security number.
4. Sells its products in spam emails.
If you ever have any questions or concerns about a website selling health care products, consult with your doctor first.
Don’t Risk Your Health
Remember, your health is too important to risk in pursuit of a “too good to be true” cure or cheaper drugs. Protect yourself from health scams by staying educated and aware. Additionally, never begin any kind of medical treatment or drug regiment without talking to your doctor first.
If you’re not sure whether a new drug or drug supplier is trustworthy, call your doctor’s office or your health insurance provider and ask about it. Your medical provider will help steer you away from illegitimate, potentially dangerous products and services.
What do you think? Have you ever encountered a health scam? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments!