Category Archives: Health Scams

Internet Health Scams


International cooperation between Australian and American agencies has shut down an internet medical eBook scam.

On 20 August 2009 The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) obtained court orders against two individuals for medical quackery. The United States acted against involved individuals there.

They made over $US 1 million selling more than 60,000 eBooks to consumers internationally that promoted claimed cures for a wide range of health conditions including acne, asthma, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, menopause and prostate cancer.

The websites also contained testimonials from happy users of the eBooks. The testimonials were from the same people across numerous different websites.

The testimonials were plainly contrived and the defendants engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct stated Justice Graham, in an ex tempore judgment. He described them as “purveyors of quack medical advice and of quack medicine.”

The testimonials were from the same people across numerous different websites.

The treatments would not have any therapeutic benefits and had no medical efficacy according to expert witnesses.

. “This is a warning to all internet scammers. It is becoming more and more common for agencies such as the ACCC to work with international agencies to bring about the demise of international scams like this” said ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel.

But How Do You Know If Something Is Genuine?

Many ‘cures’ rely on the placebo effect. This is not to deny the power of the mind.

Some other cures may obtain benefits because of the relaxation response, researched by Herbert Benson. This res[pponse is often triggered in prayer and meditation and its benefits include:

  • Decreased metabolism
  • Slower heart rate, muscle relaxation
  • Slower breathing
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Increase in nitric oxide levels

Few doubt the power of the mind. Ever since Maxwell Maltz wrote Psych-cybernetics, visualization has revolutionized success coaching.

Perhaps you have recited ‘Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.’ This was used by French Physician Emile Coue (1857-1926) who documented thousands of healings combining western medicine with affirmations.

Then there is the Placebo Effect.

However, scammers (like some MLM marketers) use a familiar manta:

  1. If you are unwell you need it
  2. If you are getting worse you need more
  3. If you are getting better well it must be because of the miracle cure
  4. If you die, then its your fault for not trying the miracle cure earlier.

OK perhaps I am guilty of hyperbole, but how can I know what is genuine?

Evaluating Health Information on the Internet

Websites have helped spread vital health information. They can be a great way to encourage people to consider if they need to check a health practitioner for further information..

Who runs the Web site?

How clearly is the owner of the website identified?Does the owner have a vested interest in a health product?

Does the site clearly identify the source of its information?

For example, if an article comes from a different writer, or claims made are references made? Is referenced material identified, either in footnotes, a bibliography or by hyperlink?

Who funds the website?

The source of funding can affect what and how content is presented. A site may be cautious about referring to information from potential competitors, or disparaging of their own products.

What is the purpose of the Web site?

Is the site advertorial or research oriented? This relates to who funds the site. A good website will have an “About This Site,” page that defines the  purpose of the site so that you can evaluate its reliability.

What is the original source of the information on the Web site?

Many health and medical Web sites post information collected from other Web sites or sources. If the person or organization in charge of the site did not write the material, the original source should be clearly identified. Are facts sourced and documented? When there is a lot of research it is preferable to have a bibliography or footnotes because hyperlinks may potentially become dead links.

In addition to identifying the original source of the material, the site should identify the evidence on which the material is based. Medical facts and figures should have references (such as citations of articles in medical journals). Also, opinions or advice should be clearly set apart from information that is “evidence-based” (that is, based on research results).

The differences between opinions and researched facts must be clear.

How is information reviewed before it is posted on the Web site?

Many claims are made by statistical association. But association is not the same as cause. Correlation does not mean causation. Causation needs a deeper analysis. I find t particularly disturbing when pharmaceutical companies misrepresent their claims in cases of life threatening illness. You can check out how one steroid constructed body builder was used to promote a body building product fobbing off that people should be smarter than who choose to believe that he hasn’t used other products.

Serious Health websites present the credentials of the author of articles. Are the facts peer reviewed. There is a mass of statistical information all dependent on variables that may throw results. Are tests repeatable or are they a one off fluke?

How large was the sample base?

Over how long a period? How are the conclusions drawn from the research? Is there a qualified editorial board that weeds out fact from fallacy? Even information from reliable sources may require special training in order to evaluate it properly and to determine whether the information applies to your disease or condition.

How current is the information on the Web site?

Often alternative medicine sites quote old, discredited information. (For the record, I am a supporter of some alternative therapies.) It is also di9fficult to compare health data between cultures and time periods when life expectancies are different.

Is the websites updated as new information becomes available?

What information about users does the Web site collect, and why?

Is the site wanting your email so it can advertise products or simply to keep you informed of new research?

How does the Web site choose links to other sites?

For example, a site may quote some impressive statistics and research. But if you follow the associated link you find the research may come from an inferior source that may be slanting the material to its own ends.

Be cautious about buying medical products via the Internet.

It is often hard, or expensive, to get a refund and verify quality. Safety, quality and efficacy may be lacking.

Beware of hyped up claims:

  • Beware phrases like  “scientific breakthrough”, “miraculous cure”, “exclusive product”, “secret formula”, “ancient ingredient”, “without risk”, “anti-ageing”, “improve sexual performance”, and “all natural”;
  • Case histories from “cured” customers claiming amazing results.
  • A list of symptoms and diseases it is claimed the product cures – for example, claims that one product can cure or treat HIV/AIDS, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, wrinkles, weight problems, memory loss, and so on;
  • Advertisements pumping the latest trendy ingredient in the news;
  • Claims that the product is available from only one source, for a limited time;
  • Testimonials from “famous” medical experts;
  • Claims of “no risk” or lack of any risk information – no product or treatment is completely risk-free!
  • Claims that a product is “scientifically proven” and “absolutely safe”.

Does the site advertising a health product give the following information:

  • product name
  • active ingredient(s)
  • name of other ingredients known to cause problems to some people
  • what to use the product for
  • when not to use the product (for example, in pregnancy, allergies, interactions with other medicines or foods)
  • how to use the product
  • possible undesired effects
  • how to store the product
  • manufacturer’s name and contact information
  • last update of the information
  • Products with the same name may contain different ingredients in different countries.

Hopefully Graeme Samuel is right, and international cooperation will make it harder for scammers to use the net to sell bogus health information.