Beware of Health Scams That Can Affect Your Pocketbook and Your Well-Being
By Robert G. Graw, Jr., M.D.
Snake oil salesmen have been around for decades, if not centuries, and modern technology has allowed them to be even more professional in their attempts to sell hype to the unsuspecting public. Unfortunately, seniors are often the targets of such scams.
The universal appeal of products that promise longevity, vigor or a cure-all makes it easy to fall for persuasive sales pitches. After all, who wouldn’t want a miracle product to increase life expectancy?
More than a way to lose money, health scams can be dangerous. They may interfere with medications prescribed by your doctor and can even prevent people from getting the legitimate medical treatment they need. Many of these treatments have not been through clinical trials or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is the best way for scientists and doctors to measure their effectiveness.
A recent heartbreaking example is the story of Steve Jobs, the entrepreneurial visionary who co-founded Apple, Inc. Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and delayed receiving potentially lifesaving surgery for several months in favor of a concoction of nonmedical remedies. Before his death a few months ago, Jobs acknowledged his earlier attempt at self-healing that included herbal cures and online treatments had cost him valuable time.
It’s easy to fall for sales pitches that promise quick fixes and false hope. For many seniors, the remedy of swiftly relieving pain or costing less money than traditional treatments is too irresistible to pass up. By preying on people who are hurting or scared for their future health, scam artists can sell their ideas and products.
Furthermore, there are now more ways than ever to push untested products. Television infomercials, printed advertisements, direct mail solicitations and the Internet all provide opportunities to sell miracle cures with overnight magic.
Anti-aging medications have gained popularity, but it’s important to remember that aging is a normal process and nothing has ever been proven to reverse it. Dietary supplements and special treatments are often promoted to somehow suspend the natural progression of growing older.
Questionable health products are often advertised to cure diseases that have no cure, such as arthritis, diabetes and dementia. Vitamins and minerals, amino acids and enzymes and herbs are sold alongside magnets and copper bracelets. But, while some herbal, nontraditional remedies have been shown to help certain symptoms, none of these products are scientifically known to cure any type of disease.
Even dubious health insurance plans exist. Some companies target people who either cannot afford standard insurance or have a pre-existing condition that prevents them from receiving it. Then, they over-promise coverage.
Trust your instincts when you consider buying a new product for your health. Be wary of outlandish claims and understand the media that carry these advertisements don’t always check to make sure they are correct.
Look for red flags when blanket statements are made about making people feel instantly better. Read the fine print at the bottom of print ads or on your television screen. Tricks used by scammers include: a quick or painless cure; a secret formula; testimonies from satisfied customers; a money-back, no-risk guarantee; additional free gifts or giveaways; a limited supply of the product; requiring advance payment; and claims to heal a disease that has not been previously cured by conventional science.
The two government agencies that work to protect the public from health scams are the Federal Trade Commission, which monitors fraud, and the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the safety of prescription medicine, medical devices, food, cosmetics and radiation-emitting products.
Lastly, your doctor is the single best resource for your health concerns. If you have questions about a product that piques your interest, talk to your doctor first.
Above all, remember the tried-and-true measures for good health in the golden years. Stay active, keep a healthy diet, limit alcohol and avoid tobacco products are still the best advice for seniors.
Dr. Graw, a grandfather of four, is a practicing physician and the founder and CEO of Righttime Medical Care. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org