Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs: Don't Fall for Health Care Product Fraud Scams

You won't find a cancer treatment or legitimate weight loss pill in the grocery store checkout line

Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs: Don't Fall for Health Care Product Fraud Scams
Image: NCCC
October 23, 2018

You'll never see scam warnings on health products, but that's what you ought to be thinking when you see claims like "miracle cure," "revolutionary scientific breakthrough," or "alternative to drugs or surgery." Why? These phrases are often used by scammers trying to prey on people who want easy solutions to difficult health problems.

Health Fraud Scams Not New

Health fraud scams have been around for hundreds of years. The snake oil salesmen of old have morphed into the deceptive, high-tech marketers of today. They prey on desperate people looking for a quick fix for every health condition imaginable, from simply losing weight to curing serious diseases like cancer.

What is a fraudulent health product

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers a health product to be fraudulent if it is deceptively promoted as being effective against a disease or health condition, but has not been scientifically proven safe and effective for that purpose. Some shady products make very suggestive claims that can convince consumers that this is the case, often followed by disclaimers.

Where can you find these shady products?

Answer: everywhere. Scammers promote their products through newspapers, magazines, TV infomercials and cyberspace. You can even find health fraud scams in retail stores, not just on websites, in pop-up ads and spam, and on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Not Worth the Risk

Health fraud scams can do more than waste your money. They can cause serious injury or even death. Using these unproven 'treatments' can delay you from getting a legitimate and potentially life-saving medical diagnosis followed by appropriate treatment.

To make matters worse, many of these fraudulent products actually contain hidden drugs and toxic substances that can make you sick.


It's not coming through your doctor: If you are looking at a health product that isn't coming through your doctor, stop and think. This applies primarily to your non-typical health products, not your ordinary things likes over-the-counter pain relievers, bandages, etc. Legitimate treatments that fight cancer or help you lose weight very fast won't be at the store checkout line or come through a "call now" infomercial.

Is not intended to treat, cure, diagnose, etc: The FDA requires supplement manufacturers, such as those that manufacture vitamins, to include a disclaimer because it's easy for consumers to misunderstand various claims made on the product label. But it also pops up on shady supplements, too. If you see any disclaimers, alarm bells should be going off.

One product does it all: Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases. A New York firm claimed its products marketed as dietary supplements could treat or cure senile dementia, brain atrophy, atherosclerosis, kidney dysfunction, gangrene, depression, osteoarthritis, dysuria, and lung, cervical and prostate cancer. In October 2012, U.S. marshals seized these products.

Personal testimonials: Success stories, such as, "It cured my diabetes" or "My tumors are gone," are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence. There's absolutely no way to prove these claims.

Quick fixes: Very few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate medical products. Beware of language such as, "Lose 30 pounds in 30 days" or "eliminates skin cancer in days."

All natural: Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can kill when consumed. Moreover, the FDA has found numerous products promoted as "all natural" that contain hidden and dangerously high doses of prescription drug ingredients, or even untested active artificial ingredients. Some supplements and medications shipped from overseas can contain other toxic substances, such as lead.

Miracle cure: Alarms should go off when you see this claim or others like it such as, "new discovery," "scientific breakthrough" or "secret ingredient." If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by health professionals, not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on websites.

Conspiracy theories: Claims like "The pharmaceutical industry and the government are working together to hide information about a miracle cure" are always untrue and unfounded. These statements are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions about the so-called miracle cure.

Always talk to a doctor

Even with these tips, fraudulent health products are not always easy to spot. If you're tempted to buy an unproven product or one with questionable claims, check with your doctor or other health care professional first. In fact, your doctor should be your first stop if you have any medical concerns.