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Common Health Scams

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People spend billions of dollars a year on products and treatments in the hope of improving their health and fitness. But a lot of that money goes to companies that make fake claims about those products and treatments, cheating people out of their money, their time — even their health. If you’re thinking about buying a health product or service, here are some things to keep in mind to get the best outcomes for you and your family.

Learn to Spot Common Health Scams

Dishonest companies will say almost anything to get you to buy their product or service. They’ll often make a wide range of fake health claims, but they tend to follow a few common patterns.

They claim one product does it all and cures a wide variety of diseases and health problems. (It won’t.)

Example of a bogus claim:

“proven to treat rheumatism, arthritis, infections, prostate problems, impotency, ulcers, cancer, heart trouble, hardening of the arteries, and more!”

They use undocumented testimonials from patients or doctors claiming, “you’ll get miraculous results.” (You won’t.)

Example of a bogus claim:

"My husband has Alzheimer's disease. He began taking a teaspoonful of this product each day. And now, in just 22 days, he mowed the grass, cleaned out the garage, weeded the flower beds, and we take our morning walk again."

They say “get results in 30 days or we’ll send your money back.” (They won’t do either.)

 Example of a bogus claim:

"If, after 30 days, your pain hasn’t stopped, your uncashed check will be returned to you."

They claim their special product will cure your ailment. (It won’t.)

Example of a bogus claim:

They may use bogus phrases like, “scientific breakthrough,” “miraculous cure,” “secret ingredient,” “exclusive product,” or “ancient remedy,” that give a misleading impression, or are simply not true.

They claim you must “act now.” (You don’t.)

Example of a bogus claim:

"Hurry. This offer will not last. Order now."

They use phony, scientific-sounding terms or refer to prestigious prizes. (Don’t take their word for it; do your own research.)

Examples of bogus promotions:

They use phrases like “molecule multiplicity,” “glucose metabolism,” “thermogenesis,” “insulin receptor sites,” “Nobel Prize winning technology,” or “developed by two Nobel prize winners."

Six Ways to Avoid Health Scams

If you’re thinking about buying a health product or service to treat an illness or ailment, here are some steps to take to get the best outcomes for yourself and your loved ones.

  1. Do your research. Search for the name of the treatment or product online, plus the words “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.”
  1. Ask your doctor first. If you’re curious about a treatment, talk to your doctor or health care provider about it. Here are some questions to ask.
    • Does this product or treatment actually work?
    • What’s the scientific evidence?
    • Are you familiar with this brand?
    • Can you tell me about the ingredients in this product?
    • How will it interact with other supplements or drugs I take?
    • What are the side effects?
    • If it’s safe to take, what’s the right amount?
  2. Know that unproven products and treatments are dangerous. Taking unproven products might mean that you stop or delay taking proven medical treatments ordered by your health care provider. Unproven products might cause bad interactions with your treatments. They also might delay you making other important changes to help your condition — say in your diet or lifestyle.
  1. Don’t let any company take advantage of your hope. Be skeptical about any treatment or product that makes guarantees or promises about your health, and check with your doctor or health care provider.
  1. Natural” doesn’t mean either safe or effective. In fact, “natural” can mean both harmful and ineffective. And some “natural” products might interfere with proven treatments recommended by your doctor.
  2. Federal lawsays sellers that peddle cures must have scientific proof to back up their claims. Ads must be truthful — not misleading. But whenever you see or hear an ad, know that no government agency approves those ads before they go public.

Common Health Scams

If you or a loved one are facing health issues, you may be feeling anxious and overwhelmed as you sort through information and make decisions about treatment options. Scammers often take advantage by using these stressful times to steal your money and personal information. Here are some ideas to help you spot and avoid common health scams people report to the FTC.

Addiction Treatments 

Scammers promote fake treatments and unproven products that promise amazing cures or fast results for opioid dependence and withdrawal. These products can cost precious time and money, lead to relapse, and could even be dangerous.

  • Dietary supplements— like herbal blends, vitamins, and minerals — have not been scientifically proven to ease withdrawal or to treat opioid dependence.
  • Dietary supplements are not reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness.
  • Kratom, and products like it which some claim can help, are not proven treatments. They can be addictive and dangerous to your health.

If you or someone you know is considering treatment for opioid dependence or withdrawal:

  • Use the confidential treatment locator operated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to find a treatment facility near you,
  • Call SAMHSA’s national helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to get live help. This free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) helps people and families facing substance use disorders.

Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, and Memory Loss

Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and memory loss are conditions for which science has no cure. The FTC and the FDA have issued warning letters to some companies that have made claims — with no proof — that their products can treat or cure Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions. The truth is:

  • Unproven products using phony claims about treating memory loss can be dangerous. They might cause you to delay or stop proven medical treatment ordered by — or available from — your physician. They might also keep you from making important dietary and lifestyle changes to help your condition. Always talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional before you try any new treatment.
  • Just because you can buy them without a prescription doesn’t mean they’re safe or effective. Many products claiming to help with memory loss or dementia are called “dietary supplements” or “natural remedies.” But they’re not regulated or reviewed for safety by the FDA. Some examples of dietary supplements which show no evidence of treating memory loss include: ginkgo biloba, fish oil, grape seed extract, curcumin, Asian ginseng, and vitamins B and E.

Anti-Aging Products

Despite claims about pills and treatments leading to the fountain of youth, there’s nothing you can buy that has been proven to slow or reverse the aging process. And many companies selling these lotions, creams, and supplements don’t have sufficient scientific evidence to show they work.

One common anti-aging health scam involves human growth hormone (HGH), a substance released by the pituitary gland that spurs growth in children and adolescents. But here’s the main thing to know about HGH: The FDA says there is no clear proof to support anti-aging claims for over-the-counter pills and sprays that supposedly contain HGH. The agency has not approved any these products for anti-aging or any other purpose.

Arthritis

Symptoms of arthritis can come and go, so it can be tempting to believe that so-called “treatments” or “supplements” are the answer. But there’s no cure for arthritis. And, in fact, some products could be harmful, expensive, and not likely to help.any arthritis remedies simply don’t have adequate scientific proof that they provide relief. Those so-called remedies that lack scientific backing include: mussel extract, desiccated liver pills, shark cartilage, CMO (cetylmyristoleate), honey and vinegar mixtures, and gimmicks like magnets and copper bracelets.

For the most up-to-date and reliable information on arthritis treatments and alternative therapies, visit the Arthritis Foundation or call 1-800-283-7800 or consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cancer

If you or someone you love has cancer, know that scammers often try to take advantage of the anxiety and worry that often comes with a diagnosis. You may be tempted to try supposed “miracle” cancer-fighting products — like pills, powders, and herbs — that you’ve seen advertised or heard about from family and friends. Maybe you’ve even heard about some foreign clinics offering supposed “miracle” treatments not available in the U.S. Whether you’re looking in the U.S. or abroad, know this:

  • No single device, remedy, or treatment can treat all types of cancer. All cancers are different, and no one treatment works for everybody, or for every cancer. Even two people with the same diagnosis may need different treatments.
  • Scammers promote unproven — and potentially dangerous — substances like teas, salves, and pills containing ingredients that can be toxicDon’t use these substances.
  • Be skeptical of ads for products that claim to treat cancer. Decide on treatments with your doctor, who knows the science and your treatment needs. 
  • If you or someone you know has cancer and is interested in experimental treatments, talk with your doctor about joining a clinical study. The FDA reviews clinical study designs to help ensure that people are not subjected to unreasonable risks.

For more information about cancer treatments, visit the American Cancer Society or call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), or visit cancer.gov, where you can get free publications on cancer research and treatment, or to learn about clinical trials.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain has many causes, including injuries, illness, and prolonged physical or emotional stress. Some companies market products and devices by claiming they treat chronic pain throughout the body, but without the scientific proof to back up their claims. Some also claim they’re clinically proven and cleared by the FDA, but they’re not. If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic pain and is considering using a product or device to treat it, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Do your research and ask your doctor if a product or treatment you’re considering will work for you.
  • If you get a robocall offering treatment for chronic pain, hang up. Scammers often call to ask about any chronic pain you may be struggling with and then offer to solve your problem to get you to hand over money or your personal information. Don’t do it.
  • Check out treatment options for chronic pain, and look at the evidence and results of studies at National Institute of Health (NIH) National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health.

Diabetes

Like many chronic diseases, diabetes requires individualized treatment by a physician. There isn't a cure yet for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can help. Taking medicine as needed, getting diabetes self-management education and support, and keeping health care appointments can also reduce the impact of diabetes on your life.

Relying on unproven products or treatments for diabetes can be dangerous. If you — or someone you know — is thinking about using a nonprescription product to treat diabetes:

  • Be skeptical about amazing health claims. According to the American Diabetes Association, and the NIH, there’s no clear proof that any dietary supplement — including vitamins or products with herbs or minerals — will treat diabetes and high blood sugar.
  • Remember that supplements can be dangerous — especially if they cause you to delay or stop effective, proven treatments for diabetes.
  • Talk with your health care provider first. If you’re tempted to use a nonprescription product to treat diabetes, high blood sugar, or any other serious health condition, talk with your health care provider before you act.

For more information about diabetes treatments, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The American Diabetes Association.

Vitamins and Dietary Supplements

 Vitamins and dietary supplements can offer health benefits, but claims that they treat or cure diseases are unproven and not allowed under federal law. Dietary supplements are largely unregulated, so some companies feel free to make unsupported claims about the effectiveness of their products.

Supplements Claiming to be Cures

Under federal law, no one can promote dietary supplements for the treatment of a disease. That’s because supplements aren't proven to be safe and effective. Dishonest companies may make false claims like: “Helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” “stop arthritis pain forever,” “cures eye disease,” “traditional remedy for heart disease, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction,” and “prevents allergies.” If you spot those claims, stop and tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Learn More About Dietary Supplements

While dietary supplements might seem similar to drugs, and some even have drug-like effects, there are big differences. Here are some things to know about supplements.

  • Unlike drugs, dietary supplements are not evaluated or reviewed by FDA for safety and effectiveness.
  • Even "natural" supplements can be risky. In fact, “natural” can mean both harmful and ineffective. And some “natural” products could interfere with proven treatments recommended by your doctor.
  • Talk with your doctor or health provider — your best and most important source of information on whether a supplement is safe for you — and ask questions like
    • Does this product or treatment actually work?
    • What’s the scientific evidence?
    • Are you familiar with this brand?
    • Can you tell me about the ingredients in this product?
    • How will it interact with other supplements or drugs I take?
    • What are the side effects?
    • If it’s safe to take, what’s the right amount?

Safety Concerns about Dietary Supplements

Increasingly, many so-called dietary supplements contain illegal drugs or hidden substances (see substance list, below) that could cause serious harm. This is especially true for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and bodybuilding “supplements.” People who’ve taken these dangerous products have suffered serious health consequences, including strokes, acute liver injury, kidney failure, and pulmonary embolisms (artery blockage in the lung). Some people have died.

Dangerous supplements are often sold with false and misleading claims like "100% natural" and "safe." To recognize dangerous products, look for:

  • Products claiming to be alternatives to FDA-approved drugs or claiming to have effects similar to prescription drugs.
  • Products claiming to be legal alternatives to anabolic steroids.
  • Products with ads or product packaging and marketing information primarily in a foreign language.
  • Products that promise rapid effects or results.

Some substances with safety concerns include:

Comfrey, chaparral, lobelia, germander, aristolochia,
ephedra (ma huang), L-tryptophan, germanium, magnolia-stephania, and stimulant laxative ingredients, like those found in dieter's teas.

To learn more about vitamins and dietary supplements visit, the FDA’s pages on dietary supplementsbuying medicines and medical products online, and health fraud. Also, visit the NIH’s resources on dietary supplements.

Reliable Sources of Information about Diseases and Treatments

To find reliable sources of information about diseases and their treatments, visit MedlinePlus.gov, a site operated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Healthfinder.gov. Information about alternative and complementary medicine is available through the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Report Health Scams

If you think you’ve spotted a scam, tell your friends and family about it so they can protect themselves. Then report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your reports help the FTC and our law enforcement partners build cases and stop scammers.

 To report side effects, bad reactions, or illnesses related to the use of a supplement or other health care product, call a doctor or other health care provider immediately. Then, report it to the FDA’s MedWatch site or call 1-800-FDA-1088 (1-800-332-1088). Patients’ names are kept confidential.

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