Beware of the snake oil sales person; the health care scam pro who uses the TV, the Internet, the mail and the telephone to peddle fake cures for what ails you.
This is the message the Food and Drug Administration is trying to get out to all of us in their recently released article on the subject of health care scams.
The FDA’s Health Fraud Scams website (www.fda.gov/healthfraud) pulls together videos and articles on how to avoid fraudulent health care schemes, and offers information about products that have been seized, recalled or are the subject of warnings from the agency.
The site also provides links to government resources on health fraud involving FDA-regulated products, such as drugs, dietary supplements, tobacco products, alternative medicines, medical devices, and cosmetics.
Gary Coody, R.Ph., national health fraud coordinator at FDA, calls the site “one-stop shopping” for people who want to learn how to recognize and avoid health care fraud scams. Anyone can search the site to see if FDA has taken an action against a product or company. However, just because a product is not listed does not mean that it is legally marketed or safe to use.
Consumers spend a fortune on health care products that “are either worthless or may cause harm,” says Coody. “Consumers can buy dangerous products on the Internet and in stores that can cause serious injury or death.” The waste of money is bad enough but using one of these unproven treatments can delay getting a potentially life-saving diagnosis and medication that works, he says.
The schemes can take many forms. “Some products billed as “all natural” in fact have prescription drugs and other chemicals not listed on the label that could be dangerous,” Coody says. The most common categories of these tainted health care products include weight loss, sexual performance, and bodybuilding.
Other health care products claim to be a cure-all for such serious chronic diseases as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to this kind of deception but consumers of all ages are taken in by fraudulent products, says Coody, adding, “Everyone is vulnerable.”
With every new health threat, phony products appear overnight, Coody says. For example, after the Japan nuclear incident in March, 2011, he says the market was flooded with products that falsely claimed to offer protection from harmful radiation.
“The snake oil salesman is still alive,” says Coody.
Health fraud is more pervasive today, says Coody, because “the Internet has opened up the world market to people from their personal computers.” If you’re tempted to purchase any unproven or little known health care treatment, especially if it’s sold on the Internet, check with your doctor or health care professional first, he advises.
Shady products are also peddled by TV infomercials, radio, direct mail, word-of-mouth marketing and ads in newspapers and magazines.
“There are many ways that consumers are getting these messages,” says Coody, and they should view these ads with a healthy dose of skepticism.”